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Time Capsule – April 1976

 

Tracklisting:

Diana Ross – Love Hangover (Tamla Motown)
Archie Bell & The Drells – Let’s Groove (Philadelphia International)
Melba Moore – This Is It (Buddah)
The Biddu Orchestra – Rain Forest (Epic)
Kool & The Gang – Love And Understanding (Polydor)
Andrea True Connection – More More More (Buddah)
Ohio Players – Fopp (Mercury*)
The Rimshots – Do What You Feel (All Platinum)
The Armada Orchestra – Band Of Gold (Contempo)
Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me (Pye)
Rodger Collins – You Sexy Sugar Plum (But I Like It) (Fantasy)
Archie Bell & The Drells – Soul City Walk (Philadelphia International)
The Biddu Orchestra – Exodus (Epic)
Lee Garrett – You’re My Everything (Chrysalis)
Candi Staton – Young Hearts Run Free (Warner Brothers)
James & Bobby – Purify I’m Your Puppet (Mercury)
Billy Paul – Let’s Make A Baby (Philadelphia International)

* Denotes US Import

Other Tracks Considered: The Miracles – Night Life (Tamla Motown) / O’Jays – Livin’ For The Weekend (Philadelphia International*) / David Ruffin – Heavy Love (Tamla Motown) / Sheer Elegance – Life Is Too Short (Pye)

Disco music was given a major endorsement when Diana Ross, one of the biggest selling female artists of all-time, topped the US chart with ‘Love Hangover’. Her previous solo material, as stated last month, was almost exclusively downtempo and, as ‘Love Hangover’ began, you’d have been forgiven for thinking this song was in a similar style, until, unexpectedly, a driving dance rhythm kicked in, taking the track onto a totally different vibe. This was a template that Donna Summer would put to good use on a number of her hits in the years to come. Given its structure, it was a great record to play after a run of slowies (there were generally two separate groupings of slowies during a night, the first with around an hour to go and the second to finish off the night – about six records in total). With ‘Theme From Mahogany’ still riding high in the UK chart, ‘Love Hangover’ would give Diana Ross two simultaneous top 20 singles, a rare occurrence, before climbing to a peak position of number 10.

Whilst ‘Love Hangover’ was the latest in a long line of hits for Diana Ross (starting off with The Supremes and ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ back in ‘64), ‘This Is It’ was the first (and biggest) for Melba Moore, going one better than ‘Love Hangover’, reaching a peak position of number 9. ‘This Is It’ was written and produced by Van McCoy, who’d scored a Disco (and Pop) bestseller the previous year with ‘The Hustle’.

Archie Bell & The Drells were best-known on this side of the Atlantic for ‘Here I Go Again’ in 1972 (although in the US it would be their 1968 million seller ‘Tighten Up’). ‘Soul City Walk’ and ‘Let’s Groove’ (both included here) had been released separately as singles in the US, but in the UK these two hits were issued back-to-back, ‘Soul City Walk’ becoming a big mainstream favourite, whilst ‘Let’s Groove’ appealed to the more specialist Soul audience, the single eventually peaking at number 13.

Another April double-header was ‘Rain Forest’ c/w ‘Exodus’ by The Biddu Orchestra, which would just scrape into the top 40 at 39. This was the follow-up to ‘Summer Of ‘42’, a top 20 hit in ‘75.

‘Exodus’ was played on the Northern Soul scene, but Northern aficionado’s would no doubt cite another Biddu produced single as his main contribution to the genre, a song he wrote for Jimmy James, the British Soul artist, called ‘A Man Like Me’. Having become a favourite at one of the movement’s most influential venues, The Torch in Tunstall, Stoke-On-Trent, in the lead up to its release in 1972 (the fact that this was a contemporary record marking it out as unusual for the Northern scene at the time), ‘A Man Like Me’ is said to have sold 50,000 copies, despite never qualifying for the chart because the sales were nearly all regional (in the North of the country). Four years on and ‘I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me’ brought a level of commercial, rather than underground, success, with the record going on to reach, for then, a creditable number 23.

Both Kool & The Gang (included here with ‘Love And Understanding’) and the Ohio Players were regarded as Funk royalty during the mid-70’s. Kool & The Gang had released classic singles like ‘Funky Stuff’, ‘Jungle Boogie’, ‘Hollywood Swinging’ and ‘Spirit Of The Boogie’, although it wouldn’t be until 1979 that they achieved their UK chart breakthrough with ‘Ladies Night’. Likewise, the Ohio Players, despite great records of their own, like ‘Fire’, ‘Skin Tight’ and ‘Love Rollercoaster’, were also hitless. Their distinctive gatefold album sleeves, featuring striking images of women in various states of undress, were rated amongst the best of the era. ‘Honey’ the album that included ‘Fopp’, had arguably the most notorious sleeve in the series, portraying a naked beauty smeared in the sticky stuff (the album would also include the seriously seductive slowie, ‘Sweet Sticky Thing’).

The Ohio Players sleeves might have been sexually charged, but the Andrea True Connection was pure pornography! When the song ‘More More More’ asked ‘how do you like your love?’, fantasy merged with reality, Andrea True being a Porn Star turned singer. Written by Gregg Diamond (later of Bionic Boogie), ‘More More More’, which went all the way to number 5 on the UK pop chart, was mixed by Tom Moulton at Philadelphia’s famous Sigma Sound Studio, regarded by many as the birthplace of the Disco sound (incidentally, Diamond would meet Luther Vandross, who later sang lead vocal on Bionic Boogie’s ‘Hot Butterfly’, at this session – Vandross was at Sigma Sound recording backing vocals for David Bowie).

‘Do What You Feel’ by The Rimshots, was released on All Platinum, the label founded by Sylvia and Joe Robinson. 1975 had been a good year for All Platinum, with a run of UK hits including ‘Shame Shame Shame’ by Shirley & Company, ‘Girls’ by Moments And Whatnauts, Retta Young’s ‘Sending Out An S.O.S’, plus The Rimshots themselves, with their cover of the Gary Tom’s Empire track, ‘7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle)’. However, 1976 wasn’t so fruitful for the label, with ‘Do What You Feel’, despite being popular in the clubs, failing to make an impression on the chart. The Robinson’s, however, were destined for greater things, going on to form the seminal Hip Hop label, Sugarhill. Previously, back in 1973, Sylvia Robinson had tasted success as an artist in her own right, via ‘Pillow Talk’, a prototype for Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’, released under her own name, Sylvia.

The Armada Orchestra, made up of London based studio musicians, specialised in instrumental Disco covers of well known Soul tracks like ‘Feel The Need In Me’ (Detroit Emeralds), ‘Tell Me What You Want’ (Jimmy Ruffin), and the track included here, ‘Band Of Gold’, a UK number 1 for Freda Payne in 1970. Not to be confused with the cult Italian label of the mid-80’s-mid-90’s, Contempo International was the company that owned Blues & Soul magazine, and had previously licensed some big club tunes for UK release, by artists including Juggy Jones, Banzai and Willie Henderson (his track ‘The Dance Master’ provided the inspiration for the sticker I had printed in ‘76, which forms part of the ‘Time Capsule’ collage that illustrates the programme).

‘You Sexy Sugar Plum (But I Like It)’ by Rodger Collins is likely to be the shortest track that will appear in a Time Capsule programme, coming in at just 2 minutes long. Originally issued in 1973 on Fantasy in the US, the single went on to break via the Northern Soul scene before reaching number 22, following its belated British release.

Lee Garrett was better known as a songwriter, working with his friend, Stevie Wonder (like Wonder, Garrett was blind), on classic songs including ‘It’s A Shame’, recorded by The Spinners – the Motown (later Detroit) Spinners in this country due to their being a British folk group of the same name – plus Stevie’s own hit ‘Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours’. Later down the line the duo would pen Jermaine Jackson’s biggest solo hit, ‘Let’s Get Serious’, but there’d be a parting of the ways over the writing credits for Wonder’s ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’, which Garrett claimed he’d been responsible for composing with a different songwriter (he’d eventually drop a lawsuit over its ownership). ‘You’re My Everything’ was Garrett’s only UK hit, reaching number 15. I remember him doing some great jingles for Terry Lennaine’s radio show later in the year (Garrett had been a radio DJ himself), and when I had my first publicity photos taken in Oct ‘76, I was wearing a Lee Garrett t-shirt that had been sent to me by the club promotions company who mailed out his releases.

If I was compiling a soundtrack that captured the spirit of ‘76, the first inclusion on my list would probably be Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, a record that would run and run in the clubs, right throughout the long hot glorious summer that helped set the year apart (more about that in a few months time). ‘Young Heart’s Run Free’ was especially evocative for someone of my age, the title alone having a somewhat poetic quality about it. Like the Lee Garrett single, this was something of a slow grower as far its progress in the charts was concerned, not entering the Top 40 until the beginning of June and only achieving its peak position in July, just missing out on the top spot when it stalled at number 2. ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ would be her biggest UK hit, although in 1991 and then again in 1997, another inspirational single, ‘You Got The Love’, credited to The Source Featuring Candi Staton (combining Staton’s acappella performance of the song from 1986 with Jamie Principle’s ‘Your Love’, which had been re-recorded), would scale the heights, reaching number 4 first time around and then, in its remixed form, number 3.

Taking the tempo down, the penultimate track is ‘I’m Your Puppet’ by James & Bobby Purify, originally a top 10 hit in the US back in 1966. This was a re-recording, which climbed to number 13 on the UK chart (the original failing to show here). The 70’s version of ‘I’m Your Puppet’ was by the second incarnation of the duo, with Ben Moore joining James Purify, replacing original member, Robert Lee Dickey.

Finally, it’s Billy Paul with ‘Let’s Make A Baby’, a popular end of night smoocher that reached number 30 on the chart. Paul is most famous for ‘Me And Mrs Jones’. an emotionally charged song about a clandestine affair, which won him a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues performance of 1972.

Having given out all of the complimentary tickets, ‘Funky Monday’ was launched at the Penny Farthing and the night would enjoy a successful eight month run, right up until when I began to DJ at a different venue on a Monday (The Deerstalker in nearby Birkenhead). Alongside the current releases I played lots of Funk oldies, including those by the big names of the time, artists like Kool & The Gang, The Ohio Players and the Fatback Band, plus, of course, the Godfather, James Brown. The top 5 James Brown tracks I played would have been (in no particular order) – ‘The Payback’, ‘My Thang’, ‘Funky President’, I Got Ants In My Pants’ , plus, obviously, the biggest JB floorfiller of them all, ‘Sex Machine’.

At a time when the Northern Soul movement was at its peak, Liverpool, as Blues & Soul’s Frank Elson pointed out this month, was ‘renowned for the Funk of course’. Elson had visited Merseyside to report on The Action Soul Club, who’d started a Sunday night in Liverpool playing what he described as ‘more or less Northern’. However, Northern never made much of an impression on the city and only 60 people, most of whom were from the outskirts of Liverpool, were in attendance. The real action was over at The Timepiece, where Les Spaine, arguably the UK’s funkiest ever DJ, was playing the latest US releases to a totally clued-up audience. Elson, who reported on the club scene in the North, had neither been to The Timepiece nor met Les Spaine, who’d been the DJ there for two and a half years at this point, but that would change in May (see next months Time Capsule).

There was almost a reverence from other DJ’s on Merseyside when the name Les Spaine was mentioned. The music he played first would have a big influence on what everyone else played later. Another DJ that was held in high regard was Terry Lennaine, with his Monday night Soul show, ‘Keep On Truckin’’, essential listening for fans of black music. Once again, the emphasis was on Funk and contemporary Soul releases (as opposed to retrospective Northern Soul). To cater for the minority of his listeners who were into the Northern scene, mainly from outlying areas of Merseyside like St Helens and Runcorn, Terry would invite a guy called Nick Cowan into the studio to play a few Northern Soul tunes.

The only person I knew who went to Wigan Casino, the best-known of all the Northern Soul venues, was a local hard knock called Alfie Mutch, who was a number of years older than me and definitely someone you wanted to be on the right side of! Alfie would turn up at the Penny every now and again on a mid-week night, when the club was pretty quiet, and I’d play a couple of Northern tunes for him to dance to. The track I most associate with him is the Biddu Orchestra’s ‘Exodus’, not the most cutting-edge of records if Northern was your thing, but given that there was no demand for it where I was playing, I only generally bought the ones that managed to find their way into the charts. I liked quite a lot of the Northern stuff, but, even if circumstances had been different, I don’t think I could ever have become a Northern Soul specialist when there was so much brilliant Funk about. Some of the greatest black music of all-time was made during the 70’s, but this wasn’t what was being played at places like the Wigan Casino, where 60’s rarities remained the general rule.

Apart from when ‘Footsee’ by Wigan’s Chosen Few was on Top Of The Pops in early ‘75, I hadn’t actually seen anyone dance in a Northern Soul style. That was until the following summer, when I pitched up a tent in the woods and camped outside Butlins in North Wales with my friend, Derek Kelsey, sneaking in through a broken fence during the daytime and returning in the early hours. Some of the people holidaying there were into the Northern scene and would get up and dance when the DJ played their type of the tunes. The two records that will always remind me of that holiday were ‘Cochise’ by Paul Humphreys and Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake’, both of which I immediately purchased on my return home, and would later be amongst the stuff I’d play when Alfie Mutch turned up.

Although the music didn’t really catch on in my neck of the woods, Northern Soul made its mark via the ‘fashion’ of the time. I thought I was ultra cool in my ‘bags’ with their 30” bottoms and 4” wastebands, which I wore as part of my school uniform, as well as when I was out, this time with ridiculously high platform shoes and, usually, a skin tight cap sleeve t-shirt (finished off with a thatch of ever so carefully blow-dried shoulder length hair and what must have smelt like a cup full of Aramis). I’m sure most people have experienced fashion disasters in their youth, but some of the stuff (or should I say combinations of stuff) that we were misguided enough to wear in the 70’s takes some beating – no wonder it’s often referred to as the decade that style forgot!

Records from April 1976.
Revisited April 2006.