Originally a backing singer for James Brown, Marva was elevated to solo artist status by Brown himself. Her first few singles on the King record label failed to chart so James Brown decided to push his protégé in a new direction and the result was Unwind Yourself.
It’s a towering mix of screeching horns and a backing beat so funky that a whole generation of hip-hop artists have felt the need to sample it. It simply forces the listener to find the nearest dance-floor (and in my case proceed to make a fool of himself on it). It is funk at its most basic and urgent, and is all the more powerful for it.
It first came to my attention as the basis for the early 90s sample-heavy track Hear The Drummer Get Wicked by Chad Jackson. At the time I had no idea where it came from. Then in 1995 I was given a tape of a (now legendary) mix from the BBC’s Radio 1 by Andy Smith – the DJ with British trip-hop band Portishead. It included Unwind Yourself and through listening to the tape almost constantly for the best part of a year (and many times since) I developed a minor obsession with it (you can stream the mix here; many thanks to Andy Smith for allowing me to link to this).
This was only strengthened a few years later when a track called Let Me Clear My Throat by DJ Kool had huge success; it was based almost entirely on the intro to Marva’s rare groove monster.
In the days before the internet it wasn’t so easy to track down rare tracks, and so I resigned myself to listening to a copy of it on a battered old C90 for the rest of my days. Then, when I lost the tape of Andy Smith’s Essential Selection mix after moving house, it passed from my memory. However I recently found a version of the mix on a great little website called Freshly Mixed. It was then that my obsession came bursting back to life.
First I tracked it down on iTunes (not exactly difficult admittedly), but only after I had found another website with the tracklisting of the mix. However it still proved elusive on vinyl. That is until my recent New York trip when I literally stumbled on-to it in the Virgin megastore on Times Square. At $30 for the album It’s My Thing (which the song Unwind Yourself appears on along with some other great raw funk tunes) it wasn’t cheap. But I had to have it, so I bought it.
Obviously the very next store we walked into, Vinyl Mania in Greenwich Village, had a copy of the song on a 12″ for a lot less. Still, I now have a whole load more Marva Whitney songs to get to know! And if you’re still not sure what Marva’s like, have a listen to this;
(You can download the Andy Smith Essential Mix which sparked this particular obsession on the download page of his website (it’s just over 36 minutes in to the first part of the mix.)
And you can see what DJ Kool did with Unwind Yourself by Marva Whitney in the video below.