El Coco – Let’s Get It Together (PYE)
Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band – Cherchez La Femme (RCA)
Cerrone – Love In C Minor (Atlantic)
Van McCoy – Soul Cha Cha (H&L)
Double Exposure – Ten Percent (Salsoul)
Mass Production – Wine-Flow Disco (Cotillion)
Alfie Khan Orchestra – Law Of The Land (Atlantic)
Eddie Kendricks – Goin’ Up In Smoke (Motown)
Boz Scaggs – What Can I Say (CBS)
David Bowie – Sound And Vision (RCA)
James Brown – Body Heat (Polydor)
Delegation – Where Is The Love (We Used To Know) (State)
O’Jays – Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love) (Philadelphia International)
Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – Reaching For The World (ABC)
Stanley Clarke – Hot Fun (Nemporer)
Billy Ocean – Red Light Spells Danger (GTO)
Other tracks considered: Arthur Prysock – When Love Is New (Polydor) / Bee Gees – Boogie Child (RSO) / Bryan Ferry – This Is Tomorrow (Polydor) / David Matthews – Shoogie Wanna Boogie (Kudu) / Gonzalez – Bless You (EMI) / J.A.L.N Band – Nothing Ever Comes That Easy (Magnet) / Real Thing – You’ll Never Know What You’re Missing (PYE) / Rhythm Heritage – Theme From Rocky (ABC) / Richie Family – Life Is Music/Lady Luck (Polydor) / Salsoul Orchestra – Salsoul 3001 (Salsoul) / Vicki Sue Robinson – Should I Stay (RCA)
Whilst US Soul and Funk records were generally released in the UK soon after they’d been issued in America, a number of New York Disco hits had slipped completely through the net, and were only available via import. However, the UK record companies were slowly reacting to what was happening in the (mainly gay) clubs of the Big Apple. The opening track of this month’s Time Capsule illustrates this point. Following on from ‘Mondo Disco’, El Coco returned with ‘Let’s Get It Together’, a track that had entered the US Disco chart (their debut Disco hit), alongside ‘Fait Le Chat (Do The Cat)’ in August ‘76 – eventually climbing to number 10. ‘Let’s Get It Together’ would prove to be one of the most enduring Rinder & Lewis recordings, although El Coco would have to wait almost 12 months before they scored their only UK hit with ‘Cocomotion’.
Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band’s second UK single, ‘Cherchez La Femme’ had been listed on the US Disco chart as early as July ‘76, making up a trio of choice cuts (the others being ‘Sweet And Sour’ and ‘I’ll Play The Fool’), as the album became the biggest Disco release in the States. It never achieved the same acclaim here, and neither ‘Cherchez La Femme’ or ‘I’ll Play The Fool’ (nor any subsequent Dr Buzzard’s singles) made any impression outside of the more specialist clubs.
One New York Disco track that did make the UK charts, peaking at number 31, was Cerrone’s ‘Love In C Minor’, which was issued here within weeks of its US release (as I mentioned last month, WEA was leading the way in the UK in terms of club promotion at the time, the company reacting quickly to the tracks popularity in US clubland). Parisian, Jean-Marc Cerrone, was a drummer who’d originally been a member of the band Kongas. Kongas had formed in France during the early 70’s and included another of the country’s main Disco figures, Don Ray (Raymond Donnez). Cerrone would co-write ‘Anikana-O’ for Kongas with producer Alec R. Costandinos (best-known for his Love & Kisses project, and the Disco ‘concept album’, ‘Romeo & Juliet’), a track that would be remixed by Tom Moulton for Salsoul, eventually becoming a US Disco hit in 1978. Having left Kongas (who would subsequently enjoy major club success in the US and Europe, via the single ‘Africanism’), Cerrone worked on his solo debut, alongside Costandinos, resulting in the French release of ‘Love In C Minor’ on the Malligator label. Having caused a massive stir, due to its erotic / homoerotic flavour (the spoken bar room conversation at the intro being regarded as particularly risqué, Cerrone himself playing the role of the well endowed stud who’s being discussed), the track was issued in the US on Cotillion. Following the success of the single, the album, also titled ‘Love In C Minor’, featuring an epic version that runs for more than 16 minutes, chalked up in the region of 3 million sales worldwide. This was undoubtedly one of the most influential of all Euro-Disco releases.
Born in Washington D.C, Van McCoy had been writing hit songs since 1961, his first being ‘Stop The Music’ by The Shirelles (others included ‘When You’re Young And In Love’ by The Marvellettes, David Ruffin’s ‘Walk Away From Love’ and Jackie Wilson’s classic, ‘I Get The Sweetest Feeling’). In the mid-70’s he enjoyed a run of success in the discos with tracks like Melba Moore’s ‘This Is It’ and ‘To Each His Own’ by Faith, Hope & Charity, but it was his own single, ‘The Hustle’ (by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony) that he’ll always be remembered for. In 1975 it took the US by storm, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, whilst picking up a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. ‘Soul Cha Cha’ failed to register on the US Disco chart, but in the UK it fared much better, reaching number 34 on the pop chart, having found favour in the clubs.
Onto one of the seminal tracks of the Disco era. Double Exposure’s ‘Ten Percent’, was the first 12″ to be made commercially available, following its US release in the spring of ‘76, whilst Walter Gibbons’ masterful ‘disco blending’ was a milestone for the coming generation of remixers, well and truly setting the standard. With Salsoul not having a UK licensee at the time, it wasn’t until February 1977 that the single was finally issued in the UK. Hailing from Philadelphia, Double Exposure had formed in the late 60’s, originally calling themselves United Image (and recording a single, ‘African Bump’, for Stax). Produced by the legendary Philly Sound rhythm section, Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young (who is cited as the inventor of the Disco style of drumming), now renegades from the Philly house band, MFSB. They’d produce a number of acts for Salsoul, including First Choice, Loleatta Holloway and Love Committee, but would have their biggest success with The Trammps. Whilst tracks like ‘My Love Is Free’ and ‘Everyman’ would further enhance their reputation, commercial success would elude Double Exposure and, following a trio of albums for Salsoul, the band would split up at the end of the decade.
Mass Production’s ‘Wine-Flow Disco’ was the other big tune from their ‘Welcome To Our World Of Merry Music’ album (as mentioned last month, along with the title track, it made number 5 on the US Disco chart).
The Alfie Khan Orchestra’s instrumental version of the Temptations’ ‘Law Of The Land’ had been originally released in the US in 1974, but with Disco growing in stature, the single had been re-issued in the UK in ‘76. Khan, from Germany, had recorded a covers album called ‘Love’s Theme And Other Hits’, which included early Disco favourites like ‘Rock Your Baby’ ‘TSOP’ and, of course, ‘Love’s Theme’, alongside ‘Law Of The Land’. Written by Norman Whitfield, ‘Law Of The Land’ appeared on the 1973 Temptations album ‘Masterpiece’ (it was also a UK single, but not in the US), whilst Whitfields other main act of the time, Undisputed Truth, also recorded it in 1973. A great example of Proto-Disco, ‘Law Of The Land’ was a track ahead of its time.
From a record associated with The Temptations, to one actually by a former Temptation – Eddie Kendricks. Having left The Temptations in 1971, as ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’, one of his greatest vocal performances, topped the US chart, Kendricks embarked on a solo career, which had something of an inauspicious start as he struggled to crack the Top 40. This changed in 1973 when ‘Keep On Truckin’’, produced by Frank Wilson went all the way to number 1 in the States. Wilson, who’d also worked with The Temptations and was considered a protégé of Norman Whitfield, had turned his back on a career as a singer to instead produce records. Only a couple of copies of his 1965 single on Motown subsidiary label, Soul, ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’, are known to exist (the rest were destroyed when Wilson decided against pursuing a career as a recording artist). Having gained classic status on the Northern Soul scene during the late 70’s, ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ is said to be the most valuable record in history, with one of the copies last changing hands for £15,000! Wilson is also a legendary Disco figure; his production of the 1972 Eddie Kendricks track ‘Girl, You Need A Change Of Mind’ is nowadays revered for its pioneering Disco type mix. However, it wasn’t Wilson who produced ‘Goin’ Up In Smoke’, but the aforementioned Norman Harris. Listed with ‘Music Man’, ‘Born Again’ and ‘Thanks For The Memories’, ‘Goin’ Up In Smoke’ would register at number 11 on the US Disco chart. Having released 9 solo albums for Motown, Kendricks would move to Arista in in 1978, where he’d hook up with producer Patrick Adams. His popularity as a solo artist in decline, Kendricks recorded his final album for Atlantic in 1981. He briefly re-joined the Temptations for a reunion tour in 1982, whilst his swansong would be an album with fellow Temp, David Ruffin, in 1988, called ‘Ruffin And Kendrick’ (by this point he’d dropped the s off the end of Kendricks, reverting back to his original surname). Plans were afoot for a further album, the duo becoming a trio, adding a 3rd ex-Temptation, Dennis Edwards, but these plans would come to an abrupt end in 1991, when Eddie Kendricks was diagnosed with lung cancer and David Ruffin died from an overdose of crack cocaine. Kendricks died the following year.
Boz Scaggs followed-up ‘Lowdown’ with his biggest UK hit, ‘What Can I Say’, which peaked at number 10. Coupled with ‘Lowdown’, it had reached number 12 on the US Disco chart. Scaggs would go on to have 2 further UK hits in 1977 – ‘Lido Shuffle (number 13) and ‘Hollywood’ (number 33).
In 1975 David Bowie embarked on his self-described ‘plastic soul period’, recording the album ‘Young Americans’ at Sigma Sound, the famous Philadelphia studio, including the seriously funky single ‘Fame’ (co-written by John Lennon), which gave him his first US number 1. Another big club tune would follow before the end of ‘75, ‘Golden Years’, which would be included on his 1976 album ‘Station To Station’. Being the changeling he was, Bowie then relocated to Europe, where, in collaboration with synth wizard (and former Roxy Music member), Brian Eno, he recorded his acclaimed electronic album, ‘Low’ (the first of what would later be termed his ‘Berlin Trilogy’). ‘Sound And Vision’ was selected as a single and not only reached number 3 on the UK charts, but further enhanced Bowies club credentials, quickly becoming a dancefloor favourite in mainstream clubland. Further to this, specialist nights would begin to emerge throughout the UK, termed ‘Roxy / Bowie’ nights, which would be the forerunner of the Futurist and New Romantic scenes that would follow as the 70’s merged into the 80’s. Bands like Kraftwerk, early Human League and Ultravox (with John Foxx) would feature on a Roxy / Bowie playlist, the music policy being strictly alternative (with, of course, the emphasis being on tracks by Bowie and Roxy Music). David Bowie was one of the major artists of the decade, releasing some of the most innovative music of the era, including classic early 70’s albums like ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’, ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. I was a huge Bowie fan during this period, becoming hooked after seeing him perform ‘Starman’ on Top Of The Pops when I was 12. Pretty soon I owned everything he’d recorded (apart from a few rarities from earlier in his career) and I even dyed my hair and wore it in the swept back style of the ‘Aladdin Sane’ sleeve. However, it was with the ‘Young Americans’ album that my Bowie obsession waned. I still liked his music, but it no longer absorbed me in the same way his earlier stuff had – for many people his move in a more Soul based direction was an exciting new development, but for me, it was covering familiar ground. Black music, largely due to the influence of my older brother and sister, had been my first love, so Bowie had fed a different part of my musical appetite – the Ziggy Stardust era being the pinnacle for me. However, for many young white kids, Bowie’s flirtation with Soul would lead them to explore the real thing (their previous musical preference being more Rock / Pop based).
Talking of the real deal, the Godfather, James Brown, was back with a new single, ‘Body Heat’. He was enjoying something of resurgence on the back of ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’, and ‘Body Heat’ followed it into the UK chart, peaking at number 36. James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006. It goes without saying that his contribution to popular music is immense – he’s one of the true titans and will always be remembered as Soul Brother Number 1, the man who brought us the Funk. R.I.P.
Delegation’s ‘Where Is The Love (We Used To Know)’ is a record that I’ll always associate with Radio Merseyside Soul DJ, Terry Lennaine. He was a big supporter of this track and I remember the band personally thanking him when it finally entered the chart in April ‘77, a couple of months after it was first released. It would peak at number 22. Later in the year they’d spend a further week in the Top 50 with ‘You’ve Been Doing Me Wrong’ (number 49), but that would be the extent of their British chart career. However, in 1980, a track they’d recorded that had failed to make any impression in the UK, ‘Heartache No 9’ made it onto the US Disco chart, reaching number 57, and has since been listed as a Paradise Garage classic (with DJ Larry Levan playing the track at the legendary New York venue). A UK based trio (the original line up including 2 Jamaicans and an American), Delegation would enjoy a relatively long career, especially in Europe, recording and performing up until the 90’s. They’d briefly reform in 1999, to release a final album, ‘Encore’.
Making a welcome return to the chart were the O’Jays, who climbed to number 24 with ‘Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender. Love)’, notching up yet another hit for the prolific Philadelphia International label.
Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes had been one of the main Philly Sound acts, but were now about to open a new chapter, having left the label and signed to ABC, leaving their lead singer, Teddy Pendergrass, behind to launch his solo career. With ‘Reaching For The World’ making the US R&B Top 10, it looked like the band had managed to make a smooth transition (replacing Pendergrass with David Ebo). However, this proved to be a false dawn, and despite further recordings for ABC, ‘Reaching For The World’ was their last major chart entry. In the UK the singles thunder was well and truly stolen by the release of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ on Philadelphia International (as detailed last month), which had only previously been available by the band as an album track. ‘Reaching For The World’ finally broke into the chart in April, but only for 1 week at number 48. It wouldn’t be until 1984 that they returned to the UK chart with 2 minor hits, ‘‘Don’t Give Me Up’ and ‘Today’s Your Lucky Day’. The group’s leader, Harold Melvin, died in 1997 in his home town of Philadelphia, the band continuing to perform until he suffered a stroke the previous year. Melvin, a self taught pianist, had originally formed The Bluenotes as a Doo Wop group way back in 1954! One of the great Soul bands of the 70’s, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes will long be remembered for classic recordings like, ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, ‘The Love I Lost’, ‘Bad Luck’, ‘Wake Up Everybody’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’.
The penultimate track is by one of the most influential bassists of the era, Stanley Clarke (once again from Philadelphia), a Jazz heavyweight who originally made his name playing with Chic Corea’s band, Return To Forever, before releasing his own albums, the best-known of which is ‘School Days’ from 1976. Acclaimed as one of the greatest bass albums in the history of Jazz, ‘School Days’ included the powerful Jazz-Funk cut, ‘Hot Fun’, which was issued as a single.
Finally it’s Billy Ocean and ‘Red Light Spells Danger’, a track reminiscent of ‘The Night’, a UK hit for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons in 1975, which had come to wider attention following plays on the Northern Soul scene. Remarkably ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ was totally ignored by Blues & Soul magazine – despite Ocean being a British based artist he was never really rated by the Soul community here. However, Pop fans went for the track in a big way and the record stormed up the chart, just missing out on the top spot and emulating the success of his first hit, ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’, which spent 10 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 2 (Ocean would eventually make it to the summit in 1986 with ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going’, which featured in the movie ‘Romancing The Stone’). Ocean, who was born in Trinidad, would eventually become a major star Stateside, racking up a trio of number 1’s in the 1980’s – ‘Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)’, There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)’ and ‘Get Out Of My Dreams Get Into My Car’.
I’d become more friendly with Radio Merseyside DJ Terry Lennaine around this time and accompanied him on a trip to Manchester one day (I think this was the first time I’d ever been there). We stopped off at Spin Inn on Cross Street, where he picked up some records. Spin Inn, which specialised in US imports, was the main record shop in the North when it came to buying the latest Soul, Funk and Disco. I’d make the odd trip there from time to time during the coming years, but when I started working at Wigan Pier, in 1980, it would become a weekly necessity, as the Tuesday Jazz-Funk night demanded the most upfront music be played. Spin Inn was the only place to shop outside of London if you wanted to be right at the cutting-edge of the black music scene. However, visiting Spin Inn wasn’t the main reason we’d driven over to Manchester. RCA Records had opened an office in Piccadilly Plaza (right next to Piccadilly Radio, for whom I’d begin putting together my mixes just over 5 years later), which was headed up by a guy called Derek Brandwood. RCA had recently licensed the Salsoul label and was one of the main companies supporting Disco music at the time. This was emphasised by the fact that Derek’s assistant was the top Northern Soul DJ, Richard Searling, of Wigan Casino fame. It was unusual for a record company to have a regional office and I don’t think it lasted more than a couple of years, but it was great to meet Richard and Derek and pick up a stack of freebies including albums by Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Double Exposure and the Salsoul Orchestra. In the early 80’s I’d DJ at the All-Dayers Richard promoted around the North with another main player from the Northern Soul scene, record dealer Bernie Golding (these All-Dayers focused on Jazz-Funk rather than Northern Soul). I’d also work with Derek Brandwood for a short time in the mid-80’s, at the ill-fated Liverpool based record company, Ryker.
I celebrated my 17th birthday with a party at the Penny Farthing. I was no longer concerned about people knowing my age, since I’d left school it didn’t seem that much of an issue. However, I was soon to get something of a rude awakening from an unlikely source. I was approached by a writer from a local magazine, the short-lived New Brighton Star, who wanted to do a piece on me. This was to be the first ever article I’d been interviewed for and my ego lapped it up. The interviewer chatted informally with me and put me at ease, talking about the type of things that interests a teenage boy, not least girls. Then we got into the interview and before I knew it, it was over. I hoped he’d got enough stuff to properly portray me as an up and coming DJ who was making his mark locally, and he assured me he had plenty of material to put together a good piece. I eagerly waited for the magazine to come out and made sure that I let everyone know that there was going to be a write-up about me in the next issue. Then finally the day arrived and I picked up a copy from the local newsagent and, finding the page, I saw a photo of me plus the puzzling headline, ‘Confessions Of A Teenage Disc-Jockey’. When I started reading I was absolutely horrified with what had been written – it was a total stitch up of cringeworthy proportions! The emphasis of the piece was squarely focused on my carnal exploits, which I’d naively been drawn into discussing when we were (supposedly) enjoying a bit of pre-interview banter – the cryptic nature of the title was now all too crystal clear (this was the time of the British sex-farce, with Robin Askwith starring in films like ‘Confessions Of A Window Cleaner’, ‘Confessions Of A Driving Instructor’ etc). Putting standard tabloid quotes into my mouth, like the ‘I can’t go into details because this is a family magazine’, he done me up like a kipper! I remember that my main concern when I saw what had be written was how to stop my Nan from buying a copy, no doubt considering the classic option of buying up all the copies from her local newsagents and promptly destroying them. I can’t recall how it all panned out in the end, but the words, ‘Confessions Of A Teenage Disc-Jockey’, would remain, rather uncomfortably, etched in my memory down the years, but would ultimately come in useful when, during more recent times, this unfortunate headline would inspire the name for my Teenage DJ project.
Records from February 1977.
Revisited February 2007.