What ‘s your most memorable scene from a gangster film?
You can argue forever about what was the greatest outfield of all time — but when it comes to the baddest outfield of all time, nothing tops the three men who patrolled the Astroturfed vastness of Olympic Stadium from 1977 through 1979: Ellis Valentine, Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie.
Three super-hip, super-talented African-American dudes who were all still under the age of 23 when they first took the outfield together for the Montreal Expos on September 26, 1976, Valentine, Dawson and Cromartie made it fun to root for the Expos, even if you weren’t an Expos fan. They also played a significant role in transforming the Montreal franchise from the jokes of the NL East into a team to be reckoned with, one that very nearly snatched the 1979 division title from Willie Stargell’s “We Are Family” Pirates.
Of the three players, Valentine was the first to make the club as a regular starter, and seemed like the one with the most all-around potential. Standing an intimidating 6’4”, Ellis could hit for power and average, he could flag down anything in his zip code, and his cannon of an arm was said to be even deadlier than Dave Parker’s. Unfortunately, while Dawson went on to a Hall of Fame career, and Cromartie became a legend in Japan, Valentine never quite regained his groove after getting hit in the face by a Roy Thomas pitch in May 1980.
When it comes to musical grooves, however, Ellis Valentine is still on it like a Hillerich & Bradsby on a hanging curve. “I listen to everything,” he says. “I started collecting albums in 1973, when I first got into pro ball, and I still have a ton of them. I converted some to CD, and I converted some to reel-to-reel; but I held on to them until the point where technology became a lot simpler, and now I have a turntable that digitally transfers the album to your computer. So now I’m slowly going through about 3000 albums, grabbing the songs that I like.”
We asked Ellis to hook us up with a killer ten-song party playlist, and the man did not disappoint — and he even shared a few thoughts with us about what these jams mean to him. Simply put, if you want your next party to be a funky good time, let EV be your DJ.
— Dan Epstein
10. Zapp — More Bounce To The Ounce (1980)
Ellis Valentine: This was one of our cruising songs that my friends and I would roll with, when we were cruising around Los Angeles. I love to cruise in old cars, and the “More Bounce” thing was really cool to us guys who drove the lowriders, those older Chevys and older Fords with hydraulic systems.
9. Parliament — Aqua Boogie (1978)
EV: “Aqua Boogie” brings me back back the second concert I ever went to. The first concert I went to, my mom and dad took me to see the Spinners. But the first concert I ever went to by myself, as an adult, was Parliament-Funkadelic on the Mothership Connection tour, at the Forum in Los Angeles. They really put on a show — I mean, they came out in a spaceship, wearing silver clothing and platform shoes, with the hats and glasses. [Laughs] Everything about Parliament-Funkadelic, especially “Aqua Boogie,” it’s got so much funk to it — that’s George Clinton’s signature.
8. Ohio Players — Fire (1974)
EV: I used to do house parties, growing up back in LA. Back then, [admission to] a house party was like twenty-five cents. “Fire” was just one of those songs where, when you put it on, everybody would dance and really rock the house. It had that bass to it; and in LA, we had homes with these crawlspaces underneath wooden floors — so if you had the right type of speakers with the right type of bass, it would just vibrate the entire neighborhood. I lived on 54th Street. It was a transit street, put it that way; it wasn’t like a regular neighborhood street, it was a street that people would use to travel through. I never lived on a residential street growing up. So back in the day, when I was still in the minor leagues, I would come back and put on these parties at my mom’s home. Across the street was a school; and since there were no houses directly across the steet, people could park all the way across the street. My house was just rocking on 54th; it was just on fire! [Laughs] So “Fire” just kind of brings back memories of 54th Street.
7. LTD — Back In Love (1978)
EV: That’s another party song. It reminds me of a buddy of mine and his girl who got married; when they came to the party, this was one of the songs they wanted played, and we kind of dedicated the song to them. “Back In Love” was just another one of those rhythmic songs we grew up with, that you could just put on and it would make you feel good. LTD was just a wonderful group.
6. Rose Royce — Car Wash (1976)
EV: Rose Royce were somewhat like the Gap Band — which is a group I didn’t put on here, but we can keep going; I’ve got a complete party file! [Laughs] Rose Royce was just amazing. The way they put this “Car Wash” song together — you can’t help but feel it! Even if you’re completely non-rhythmic, you know how to move to “Car Wash”!
5. James Brown — The Big Payback (1973)
EV: James! I mean, what can you say — that’s James Brown, man! James’ll go through a whole song and say about three or four words that you’ll understand. These are all songs where, if you’re at a party or at a gathering, everyone knows these songs — and everybody especially knows “The Big Payback’ by James Brown. People use it for many personal reasons, but it’s an awesome, awesome record. I use music to get me in a mood or get me going, sometimes when I feel a little sluggish. I can go from James Brown to Adele; that’s just the kind of music I listen to. James was the hardest working man in show business, and his hair never got messed up! [Laughs] He was very much a showman, very powerful, and very influential in music history.
4. Marvin Gaye — Got To Give It Up (1977)
EV: You can’t play a Marvin Gaye song and not feel sexual, you know what I mean? There’s some kind of romantic something in there, if you listen to the words and lyrics. This guy was unbelievable, and I can just imagine where he’d be today with his style of music. This song here’s another party song — it’s eleven minutes, and it just makes you move and groove; you just feel it all the way through. It was also a good song to play before you’d go to a game. Before I would arrive at Olympic Stadium, I could put this on and travel several miles while it was playing. I was always in something with a sun roof open, or the top down, and music playing. It was just another one of those “get ready for baseball” songs. And “Got to Give It Up,” that’s the way I felt –—they were gonna have to give it up to me when I went out there. They were either gonna give it up to me at the plate or in the outfield. [Laughs]
3. Funkadelic — Not Just Knee Deep (1979)
This is the guy Philippé Wynne that was with the Spinners. When he broke away on his own, he collaborated with George Clinton, and he’s the one singing on this song. This guy could really carry a song; his voice was so smooth and so strong and powerful, and when he joined up with Funkadelic, it was a marriage made in heaven. It’s another one of those feel-good songs. We had certain songs that you’d play on the plane, depending on whether you won or lost the game. And this was one of those songs where you’d put it on after a win! Most of these songs have extended versions, and that was pretty much signature back in the day — five minutes, continuous beats, that kind of thing. “Not Just Knee Deep” by Funkadelic, you’re talking like 15 minutes! People would say, “Aw, I’m not dancing on that thing — that’s fifteen minutes!” And then you go Marvin Gaye, “Got To Give It Up,” and that’s like 11 minutes. That’s a workout — with those two songs, you can fill a workout video! [Laughs]
2. Johnny “Guitar” Watson — A Real Mother For Ya (1977)
EV: Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a major talent. He was masterful with his guitar, and the bass in this song is just awesome; this is another song where there’s a bass beat in it that carries the entire song. Plus, one of the girls that went to high school with me was on the back cover of the album! Her name was Pam — she was a little cutie, a little light-skinned girl with green eyes, just gorgeous! Johnny “Guitar” Watson got me kind of interested in music, him along with Bootsy Collins. Those two guys were two characters!
1. Brick — Dazz (1976)
Shaft had a theme song, Superfly had a theme song, all those guys had a theme song. If I had to have a theme song, this song would be it! [Laughs] It wasn’t one of those where I’d play it before games; I acquired a better relationship with this song in the latter part of my career. If I ever need to find a song to pull me out of a funk I’m in, this is it; this song just has my name written all over it. It came out back in ’76, but it’s just like old cars — if I still had all the cars I had growing up, I’d be a millionaire right now. Like those old Chevys, or whatever, these songs are timeless. They’re gonna be playing them forever. And you see how people keep sampling these songs from back in the day; they just get better with time.
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