Lalo Schifrin – Jaws (CTI)
Sammy Gordon & The Hip Huggers – Making Love (Polydor)
Brothers Johnson – Get The Funk Out Ma Face (A&M*)
Detroit Spinners – The Rubberband Man (Atlantic)
Barry White – Baby, We Better Try To Get It Together (20th Century)
Abba – Dancing Queen (Epic)
Rimshots – Super Disco (All Platinum)
Ritchie – Family The Best Disco In Town (Polydor)
J.A.L.N Band – Disco Music (I Like It) (Magnet)
Kay-Gees – Waiting At The Bus Stop (Polydor)
Earth Wind & Fire – Getaway (Columbia*)
Pioneers – Broken Man (Mercury)
James & Bobby Purify – Morning Glory (Mercury)
John Handy – Hard Work (Impulse)
George Benson – Breezin’ (Warner Brothers)
* denotes import
Other tracks considered: Detours Try To Hold On (MCA) / Gladys Knight & The Pips Make Yours A Happy Home (Buddah) / Lee Garrett Heart Be Still (Chrysalis) / Linda Lewis This Time I’ll Be Sweeter (Arista) / Millie Jackson A House For Sale (Spring) / Natalie Cole Mr Melody (Capitol) / Tina Charles Dance Little Lady Dance (CBS) / Tommy Hunt Loving On The Losing Side (Spark) / War Summer (Island)
In August ‘76 the postman delivered what I originally thought was an LP, but, on closer inspection, discovered to be a ‘12” single’ – the first I’d ever seen. It included 3 tracks from the Lalo Schifrin album ‘Black Widow’ – on one side ‘Flamingo’ and ‘Quiet Village’, with the other side taken up by what would become a big UK club track, ‘Jaws’ (Schrifin’s discofied adaptation of the theme music from the 1975 blockbuster movie, which provided director Steven Spielberg with his major breakthrough). It was sent to me by the club promotion company M.I.F.
The first 12” singles were manufactured in the US in 1975, originally as a DJ only format for promotional purposes. They evolved (thanks to remix pioneer, Tom Moulton) as a result of US DJ’s wanting to play extended versions of Disco tracks, without losing level and sound quality, which happened if you put too much information into the grooves of a 7” (or, in the case of an LP, as one of a number of tracks packed onto a side) – the fact that a 12” single obviously had more space between the grooves than a 7” provided the solution to this problem. The first commercially issued 12” was ‘Ten Percent’ by Double Exposure, released in the US on Salsoul Records in June 1976, with Walter Gibbons providing an epic mix, which is regarded as one of the Disco era’s defining moments.
From a UK perspective, Blues & Soul advertised ‘the first UK released 12” 45 RPM singles’ as ‘Breakaway’ by Ernie Bush c/w ‘Chinese Kung Fu’ by Banzai (both specially remixed by Tom Moulton) and ‘For The Love Of Money’ by The Armada Orchestra c/w ‘Sting Your Jaws’ by Ultrafunk – available October 8th 1976 on their Contempo label. It seems that the ‘Jaws’ 12” I received was a US pressing, although, interestingly, pressed at 45 RPM (the standard speed that UK twelves would run at – US preferring 33 RPM). Following massive club support, it eventually entered the UK pop chart on October 9th, climbing as high as number 14.
Lalo Schifrin, an Argentinian Jazz pianist, composer and arranger, was best known for writing the ‘burning fuse’ theme music for the TV series ‘Mission Impossible’ in the 60’s, whilst his most famous 70’s composition was probably the ‘Theme From Enter The Dragon’, the spectacular Kung Fu movie that finally made Bruce Lee an international star in 1973. He also wrote scores for numerous other movies, including ‘Bullitt’ and ‘Dirty Harry’. ‘Jaws’ was composed by John Williams, and swept the board with Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe awards for ‘best original score’ (he would become one of the most prolific of all film composers, providing the themes for ‘Star Wars’, ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’, ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘E.T’ and ‘Superman’, amongst many others).
Moving on, and ‘Making Love’ by Sammy Gordon & The Hip Huggers, whilst failing to cross over to the UK chart, proved to be more popular in British clubs at the time than in the US, where, like ‘Jaws’, it failed to make the Disco chart. Written by the highly revered duo of Partick Adams and Greg Carmichael (with F. Hauser) and issued on Carmichael’s Red Greg label, this was the third Hip Huggers release, following a couple of Funk singles on the small Brooklyn labels, For The Archives and Lu Lu. Together and separately, Adams and Carmichael were involved with a whole host of releases during the Disco era and beyond, by acts including Musique, Sine, Black Ivory, Candi Staton, Inner Life, Universal Robot Band, Cloud One, Phreek, Bumblebee Unlimited and Fonda Rae. Patrick Adams is also credited with discovering underground dance hero Leroy Burgess.
Following on from ‘I’ll Be Good To You’, the Brothers Johnson returned with a more club based offering, ‘Get The Funk Out Ma Face’, whilst the Detroit Spinners ended a 2 year chart absence with ‘The Rubberband Man’, which would reach number 16 in Britain. Meanwhile, Barry White’s new single, ‘Baby, We Better Try To Get It Together’, would peak one place higher, at number 15.
Abba was a band you wouldn’t have associated with Disco. Having won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’ the Swedish quartet had amassed an impressive string of hits, including ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Fernando’, which would follow ‘Waterloo’ to the top of the UK chart. However, ‘Dancing Queen’ would prove to be the quintessential Abba single, going to number one on both sides of the Atlantic and establishing them as stars on a Worldwide stage. A huge favourite with the girls (and subsequently the gays), ‘Dancing Queen’ was a massive mainstream club hit in the UK, echoing the dancefloor success of other pop acts like the Bee Gees, Elton John & Kiki Dee, the Glitter Band and Mud.
Disco had now become something of a buzzword, as illustrated by the next trio of records, all of which included the word in the title. ‘Super Disco’ by The Rimshots was the follow-up to ‘Do What You Feel’, but, once again, failed to make any real impression outside of the clubs – ‘7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle)’ destined to remain their one and only UK hit. However, ‘The Best Disco In Town’ by the Ritchie Family was a completely different story – a number 10 hit here, and one of the biggest US club tracks of the year, topping the Billboard Disco chart. Recorded at Philadelphia’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios, this was the first Disco medley record, which featured a number of Philly Sound musicians who’d played on some of the original recordings referenced on the track, like ‘I Love Music’, ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’. Other snippets included ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, ‘Love To Love You Baby’, ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ and ‘Lady Marmalade’, plus the Ritchie Family’s first hit, ‘Brazil’, from 1975 (a track that just missed the UK top 40). The record was the brainchild of producers Jacques Morali & Richie Rome (from whom the Ritchie Family got their name). Morali would later go onto bigger success, alongside Henri Belolo, as writers / producers for the Village People. The Ritchie Family would never quite scale the heights they reached with ‘The Best Disco In Town’, but would continue to make tracks, with a variety of line-ups, on into the early 80’s.
To complete the trio of singles with ‘Disco’ in the title, we have a UK recording by Birmingham’s J.A.L.N Band entitled ‘Disco Music (I Like It)’, which almost reached the UK top 20; stalling at number 21 (J.A.L.N was an abbreviation of Just Another Lonely Night). The following year, when I was at the Golden Guinea, the club promotions girl from Magnet Records, Joanna Kochen, brought the band along to the club to make a personal appearance. They’d go on to have two further UK chart entries, but ‘Disco Music (I Like It)’ would remain their biggest hit.
Alongside the previously mentioned Brothers Johnson release, there were a couple more Funk singles that I started playing in August ‘76 – ‘Waiting At The Bus Stop’, the Kay-Gees follow-up to ‘Hustle Wit Every Muscle’ and Earth Wind & Fire’s dynamic new offering, ‘Getaway’. Looking back, it’s surprising to find that ‘Getaway’ made absolutely no impression on the UK chart. I’d have guessed that it was top 20, such was its popularity on the dancefloor, but despite already being a major act Stateside, it would be another 6 months before EW&F graced the chart over here.
The Pioneers, from Kingston, Jamaica, had previously recorded 2 classic Reggae singles, ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ and the Jimmy Cliff composition, ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’, but after a third UK hit, ‘Give And Take’ in 1972, they’d struggled to maintain their British popularity. In 1976 they changed direction, teaming up with producer Eddy Grant (of Equals fame) and going for a more Soul based approach. The resulting album ‘Feel The Rhythm’ never really took off, but the single ‘Broken Man’ was fairly well received, without ever threatening to repeat their previous chart successes.
Also on Mercury, and hot on the heels of ‘I’m Your Puppet’, James & Bobby Purify would return to the chart with ‘Morning Glory’, this time peaking at number 27. There’d be no further hits for this vocal duo.
Alto saxophonist John Handy had been recording since the early 50’s and had worked extensively with the Jazz great Charlie Mingus. ‘Hard Work’ would become a Jazz-Funk classic, gaining lots of club support from the upfront DJ’s. Years later I remember it turning up again as the music which accompanied a TV advert (I’m pretty sure it was for a cleaning product, but can’t remember which brand off the top of my head).
Finally it’s one of the biggest Jazz-Funk artists of all, George Benson, whose sublime instrumental, ‘Breezin’’, was a major departure from his previous single, ‘Supership’, which had been released the previous year under the name George ‘Bad’ Benson. No longer ‘Bad’, Benson had now departed from his previous label, CTI, and signed to Warner Brothers. His debut Warner album, also called ‘Breezin’’, would become the first Jazz LP to attain multi-platinum sales in the US. Born in Pennsylvania, and a one-time child prodigy, Benson’s super smooth guitar style marks him out as a Jazz legend, although he’s probably better known to many as a Soul vocalist, recording a trio of top 10 UK hits in the early 80’s (‘Give Me The Night’, ‘Love X Love’ and ‘In Your Eyes’).
Building on the momentum of the previous month, I was given a half hour audition on Hospital Radio Catherine, which would result in me being offered my own show. I’d actually host my first full programme on August 18th, filling in for Norman Walker. My opening track was the ‘Theme From Rollerball’ (the futuristic film starring James Caan) by John Williams, over which I made my introductions and invited requests from the patients. The majority of my playlist was black music based, although I obviously kept to well known tracks, both old and current. The show included Tavares ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel’, Bryan Ferry ‘The Price Of Love’, Jesse Green ‘Nice And Slow’, Bob & Marcia ‘Young Gifted And Black’, The Chiffons ‘Sweet Talkin’ Guy’, The Velvelettes ‘Needle In A Haystack’, Johnny Guitar Watson ‘I Need It’, the Bee Gees ‘You Should Be Dancing’, Wings ‘Let ‘Em In’ and, as the final track, my favourite all-time slowie, ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ by The Temptations. I also included a couple of requests from the wards – The Supremes ‘Baby Love’ and ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton. The show must have gone down well as, directly afterwards, I was informed that I’d be given my own weekly Saturday lunchtime programme in September.
Records from August 1976.
Revisited August 2006.