"My life, my life, my life, my life, in the sunshine."
These days, most listeners would immediately think of Mary J. Blige's early '90s hit "My Life" when reading those words. In reality that hook dates back to 1976, when a fusion artist named Roy Ayers released that unique track. Today, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" sounds as distinct as it did 37 years ago; one can almost smell the ocean and feel the summer breeze while experiencing this light-as-air tune. Not surprisingly, hip hop artists have repeatedly sampled the chorus and unique keyboard melody.
Ayers began his career as an acclaimed vibrophonist, even though he did not pick up the instrument until he turned 17. His parents were both musicians; because of their connections, a five-year-old Ayers received his first pair of vibe mallets from none other than Lionel Hampton. In his late teens and early twenties Ayers began working in the West Coast jazz scene, eventually joining jazz flautist Herbie Mann's band. Mann quickly became his mentor, eventually producing Ayers's first three solo albums. Wanting to experiment with other musical genres, Ayers departed Mann's group to form his own band: Roy Ayers Ubiquity.
Throughout the 1970s, Ayers scored modestly successful R&B hits with his group, including "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," "Don't Stop the Feeling," "Mystic Voyage," "Running Away," and "Searching." By the 1980s, however, he moved on to other projects, including collaborations with Fela Kuti and other songwriting. While he dabbled in other genres, a parallel trend was emerging in Europe: acid jazz. Ayers proved to be ahead of his time, paving the way for artists such as Incognito. The emergence of hip hop heavily influenced acid jazz, where heavier beats and rapping were added to the mix. In America, the neo-soul movement of the 1990s also paid homage to Ayers, with Erykah Badu covering "Searching" on her 1997 Live album. Rappers caught on to Ayers as well, with his songs frequently sampled by artists such as Brand Nubian, Naughty by Nature, and Tupac Shakur. Thanks to acid jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop, mass audiences finally understood what Ayers tried to accomplish in the seventies.
The epitome of a lazy summer day, "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" is the sonic equivalent of hazy heat and gentle breezes. Very few lyrics comprise this tune, with singers repeatedly crooning the title phrase, "Folks get down in the sunshine," and later the throwaway line "just bees and things and flowers." The tinkling of the piano, which renders the song's crucial riff, floats in the air, while synthesizers swirl throughout. The bass line proves important as well, enhancing the laid-back vibe of the track. When the singers chant "my life," they emphasize the freedom inherent in warm summer weather; here they are free to "feel what I feel" and "do what I do" in the sunshine. Who hasn't felt that way on a perfect sunny day? The line "folks get down in the sunshine" suggests family reunion picnics, with the young and the old gently swaying to the beat.
"Everybody Loves the Sunshine" remains a classic track, and has been kept alive through frequent sampling and reinterpretations of its lyrics. Blige's "My Life" transformed the words into a lament, but Ayers's original version brims with joy.
The list below represents a few notable tracks sampling Ayers's tune:
Brand Nubian - "Wake Up" (1990)
Mary J. Blige - "My Life" (1994)
Naughty by Nature - "Sunshine" (1995)
Mos Def - "Life Is Real (2004)
Mary J. Blige featuring 50 Cent - "MJB Da MVP" (2005)