(July 23, 2022). For more than a dozen years now, R&B superstar Bruno Mars (yes, I’m calling him R&B) has been making swoon-worthy hits…classic records that have captivated audiences of multiple genres, genders and generations.
Now, as half of the duo Silk Sonic with his partner Anderson .Paak, the soulful crooner has taken a classic originally inspired by a messy situation and turned it into the longest-running No. 1 smash on the Billboard Adult R&B Airplay chart so far in 2022!
That classic is “Love’s Train,” a funk-and-soul slow jam originally recorded by the band Con Funk Shun for their 1982 album To The Max. Written by that group’s two key members Felton Pilate (pronounced “pilot”) and Michael Cooper, “Love’s Train” was a song whose lyrics Cooper created after he discovered that the girl he was dating—Pilate’s thought-to-be-ex-girlfriend—was still seeing Pilate.
Oddly enough, it was music originally written by Pilate that Cooper (and the rest of their Con Funk Shun bandmates) suggested that Cooper’s lyrics matched perfectly and, after an initially reluctant Pilate conceded, a classic was born.
“Love’s Train” could’ve easily been called “Love’s Triangle.” It certainly made Con Funk Shun the “Fleetwood Mac of R&B,” with bandmates famously seeing each other’s girlfriends and writing songs about it (except Con Funk Shun’s situation wasn’t so incestuous since that girlfriend wasn’t also in the band…but I digress).
Surprisingly, the original version of “Love’s Train,” with Michael Cooper’s strong tenor vocal pouring out his heart over the two-timing woman that eluded him, never made Billboard’s or any other national charts. That was because, amazingly, Con Funk Shun’s label Mercury Records never released it as a commercially available single, which before 1999 was a prerequisite for a song to be eligible for Billboard’s national popularity rankings.
Instead, three other singles from To The Max (“Ain’t Nobody, Baby,” “Ms. Got The Body” and “You Are The One”) were released as 45s and charted mediocrely (quick challenge: sing the lyrics to any one of those three songs), while fans of “Love Train” had to plop down the extra bucks to buy the whole album.
But it was “Love’s Train” that became the time-tested classic. It was a staple on “quiet storm” R&B radio (despite its non-single status) from 1982 until well into ‘83 and beyond. It has appeared on every one of Con Funk Shun’s hits compilations and you will never see the band perform in concert without including “Train” in their setlist.
And now, the seemingly inescapable duo Silk Sonic has injected new life into the 40-year-old classic by making a faithful throwback version and turning it into the biggest hit sound on adult R&B radio in 2022!
Silk Sonic’s remake was released on February 14 this year to capitalize on Valentine’s Day. At the time, the group was still riding high with hits from their first album, An Evening With Silk Sonic, on which “Love’s Train” initially didn’t appear (it has since been added to a deluxe version). Those earlier hits, “Leave The Door Open” and “Smokin’ Out The Window,” were still in the Adult R&B top ten when “Love’s Train” entered the 30-position chart at No. 30 on March 5.
By April 23, “Love Train” had chugged its way to No. 1, where it has spent twelve non-consecutive weeks, culminating in last week’s July 16 ranking. No other song in 2022 has spent more than four weeks at the top of the Adult R&B chart, which this blogger affectionately refers to as the “Grown Folks List.”
So why has today’s “Love’s Train” been so popular with the adult R&B audience?
First, it’s simply a great tune. It falls into the category of songs that are so well crafted and inherently good—both musically and lyrically—that they’re hard to mess up no matter who performs it. Think classics like “I Will Always Love You” or “A House Is Not A Home” or “You’ve Got A Friend,” which were great in both original and cover versions.
Then there’s the Silk Sonic factor. The band—formed in 2021–has created a huge following in just 18 months with several throwback jams that have become radio staples. People have embraced their old-school schtick, which may seem tongue-in-cheek at times, but it fills a particular void. No other live R&B bands are out there (and there haven’t been for ages) doing what Silk Sonic does, and until there’s some serious competition to fill that niche, Silk Sonic is all we’ve got!
Another important factor is “Love’s Train”’s familiarity and nostalgic quality. Silk Sonic’s remake is so faithful to the original that it’s initially hard to distinguish it from Con Funk Shun’s version. There are subtle variations, like an ever-so-slight change in tempo or Silk Sonic’s use of brass instruments and live drums to give it a more ‘70s throwback feel than the synth-driven ‘80s original, but the versions are otherwise very similar.
But perhaps most important is the lack of controversy involved and the ultimate show of respect by all parties.
Silk Sonic’s remake has received the endorsement of Con Funk Shun’s Felton Pilate who has stated in interviews that, although he was surprised when the new version was released because he didn’t receive a call beforehand from either Silk Sonic or the song’s publisher (who owns licensing rights), he loves the attention it’s brought the classic version and his own band.
In a show of mutual respect, Mars has gone on to thank Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper who recently appeared at a Silk Sonic show and was photographed with the duo afterwards.
Oh, and since everyone loves a happy ending, the awkward love triangle that inspired the original “Love’s Train” has not affected the lifelong friendship of Pilate and Cooper, who perform together as Con Funk Shun to this day.
All in all, the story of “Love’s Train” has been a great one in 2022. It’s rare that a 20th century R&B ballad gets the kind of love this deep into the 21st century as Con Funk Shun’s classic has, but it’s happening now and we’re here for it!
And that’s why “Love’s Train” is the biggest hit of 2022 so far, at least for us “grown folks.”
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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