They are some of music’s most unique lyrics:
“A present from you
Strawberry letter 22
The music plays
I sit in for a few…”
Time to remember The Brothers Johnson, and share the secrets of “Strawberry Letter 23!”
“The Brothers Johnson” were musicians and brothers George (“Lightnin’ Licks”) and Louis E. Johnson (“Thunder Thumbs”). They had a string of great funky R’n’B hits in the 70’s and 80’s, including this mysterious classic:
“Strawberry Letter 23”!
It has one of the most unusual song titles of all time, and it’s a funky, hypnotic gem!
If you haven’t heard the song, it’s a soulful ballad that has unusual lyrics and song structure…
Here’s the story behind “Strawberry Letter 23″…it was written by Shuggie Otis, who recorded it for his 1971 album “Freedom Flight”.
According to wikipedia:
“George Johnson, of the Brothers Johnson, was dating one of Otis’s cousins when he came across the album. The group recorded “Strawberry Letter 23” for their 1977 album “Right on Time”, which was produced by Quincy Jones, and the album went platinum. They recorded the song in a funkier, more dance-oriented vein than the original Otis version. Their rendition hit the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number five and reached number one on the Soul Singles chart in 1977!”
This “Strawberry” Smells Great!
So the brothers took a song from a friend and turned it into a worldwide smash hit! Of course, the 12″ single was pressed on red strawberry-scented vinyl!
Quincy Jones produced the song, and you can get a real sense of his studio mastery on the entire album. For example, I love how “Strawberry” begins.
The first thirteen seconds of the song are a soft hint of the chorus of the song, floating out there briefly before it kicks in with a strong funky groove…and as for those lyrics:
“Stained window, yellow candy screen
See speakers of kite
With velvet roses diggin’
A present from you
Strawberry letter 22
The music plays
I sit in for a few”
According to the great website “Songfests.com”:
Guitar prodigy Shuggie Otis wrote it for his girlfriend, describing the feelings evoked by “Strawberry Letter 22,” a scented love letter she wrote to him, and the song’s title expresses his eagerness for the next letter!
“Strawberry Letter 23” Is Not A Letter But A Song!
Songfests revealed what the letter really is – and what it wasn’t – scented!
“It is commonly believed that she wrote to him on strawberry-scented paper but Otis told Spinner in a 2013 interview that the song has nothing to do with the smell of strawberries. “What I pictured when I was writing that song, was a girl handing a guy a pink envelope,” he explained. “A love letter. The guy and the girl had written each other 22 letters so far. And the 23rd one he writes is a song. But no scents.”
“The Brothers Johnson put out a single [of the song] and it was colored red and smelled like strawberries. Did you know that? It had a scent to it. I think that’s how the whole thing got started.”
Thanks to “Songfests.com” for that! The mystery of “Strawberry Letter 23” revealed! Now, time to see this great song performed!
Here is the great music video from 1977!
Quentin Loves The Brothers!
Quentin Tarantino, known for his eclectic soundtracks, has sample The Brother Johnson twice: the first time, “Strawberry Letter 23” is heard very briefly in “Pulp Fiction” as Jules and Vincent walk down the hallway of an apartment building.
However, the song is played at length in “Jackie Brown” and is featured on the movie’s soundtrack album.
More Brothers Gems!
The Brothers Johnson had a string of hit songs throughout the 70’s, such as this great funky gem: “I’ll Be Good To You.”
Here they are performing “I’ll Be Good To You” on “The Midnight Special” from 1976:
The Brothers’ last big hit was from 1980, near the end of disco’s musical run, and they took part with this funky disco gem, “Stomp!”
Thanks to all of the music streaming services, you can get your “Brothers” fix any time…they were great musicians and performers, and I hope you give them a listen!
Some of their music reminded me of the “Shaft” soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, which is fantastic: the iconic theme song of course, but a soulful, jazz-infused classic from the early 70’s as well…
And of course, the movie was terrific as well! Here are some of my favorite “blaxploitation” films from the 70’s:
Let me know if you are a fan of “The Brothers!”
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