The Equals – Funky Like A Train (Mercury)
Chi-Lites – You Don’t Have To Go (Brunswick)
Johnny Wakelin – In Zaire (Pye)
Glitter Band – Tuna Biscuit (Bell)
Bee Gees – You Should Be Dancing (RSO)
Strutt – Time Moves On (Brunswick)
Trammps – Soul Searching Time (Atlantic)
Peoples Choice – Here We Go Again (Philadelphia International)
Jimmy James & The Vagabonds – Now Is The Time (Pye)
Elton John & Kiki Dee – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Rocket)
Can – I Want More (Virgin)
Jesse Green – Nice And Slow (EMI)
KC & The Sunshine Band – (Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty (Jayboy)
Johnny Guitar Watson – I Need It (DJM)
Tavares – Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel (Capitol)
Fatback Band – Night Fever (Polydor)
Lou Rawls – You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine (Philadelphia International)
Other tracks considered: Andrea True Connection – Party Line (Buddah) / Armada Orchestra – The Love I Lost (Contempo) / Billy Ocean – L.O.D (Love On Delivery) (GTO) / Blue Magic – Freak-N-Stein (Atlantic) / Chosen Few – Night And Day (Miami) / Diana Ross – I Thought It Look A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love) (Tamla Motown) / Little Anthony & The Imperials Better – Use Your Head (United Artists) / Swamp Dogg – The Other Man (DJM)
July’s Time Capsule kicks off with The Equals and ‘Funky Like A Train’. Not one of the bands biggest selling tracks, but certainly their funkiest. Led by Guyana born Eddy Grant, The Equals were Britain’s first successful multiracial band, formed in North London in 1965. They secured a recording deal with President and would receive rave reviews for their live performances, often supporting visiting American Soul stars, but their first three singles, released in 1967, ‘I Won’t Be There’, ‘Hold Me Closer’/’Baby Come Back’ and ‘Give Love A Try’, all failed to chart, although their album, ‘Unequalled Equals’, entered the chart in November ‘67, climbing all the way to number 10. After just missing the top 40 with ‘I Get So Excited’, President re-released ‘Baby Come Back’, which had taken off in Germany and Holland, and this time the track went to the top of the UK chart (the single would also be a minor hit in the US). A run of hits followed, most notably ‘Viva Bobby Joe’ in 1969 and ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’ in 1970, helping pave the way for black British musicians in the decade to come. However, Grant, aged just 23, suffered a heart attack on New Years Day 1971 and quit the band as a result, although he continued to write and produce tracks for them, including ‘Funky Like A Train’. He’d eventually enjoy a highly successful solo career, especially during the years 1979-1983, with top 20 hits ‘Living On The Frontline’, ‘Do You Feel My Love’, ‘Can’t Get Enough Of You’, ‘Electric Avenue’, and the UK number 1, ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’. He’d return to the top 10 in 1988 with ‘Gimme Hope Jo’Anna’, and again in 2001 with a remix of ‘Electric Avenue’ – all in all a 34 year span of hits.
The Chi-Lites made a return to the charts, following their March single, ‘The Devil Is Doing His Work’, with the more commercially accessible, ‘You Don’t Have To Go’. This would turn out to be their 6th and final top 10 hit in the UK, peaking at number 3 (their highest placing, along with 1972’s ‘Have You Seen Her’).
An unlikely pop star, Brighton’s Johnny Wakelin, formerly a cabaret singer on the South Coast circuit, who’d lost a leg in a motorcycle accident when he was a teenager, would record two hits, both inspired by the great heavyweight boxer and all-round iconic figure, Muhammad Ali. The first, ‘Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)’, had reached number 7 early in 1975, but ‘In Zaire’ would go on to peak three places higher. Driven by a relentless tribal beat, which made the track popular in the discos, it told the story of what is regarded as the greatest fight of all, the ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, which matched Ali with the then undefeated World Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman, on October 30th 1974 in Kinshasa, Zaire (I’d stayed up to watch the fight live on TV). Ali, when he was still undefeated himself, had been stripped of his world title after refusing his induction to the US Armed Services in 1967, during the time of the Vietnam war, having famously declared ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong’ and ‘no Vietcong ever called me nigger’. He eventually returned to the ring in 1970, but during the following years had suffered some major setbacks in his bid to regain the title, losing to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Then along came George Foreman, a fearsome fighter who destroyed both Frazier and Norton in no time. Few people believed that Ali stood a chance against Foreman and he started the fight as 3-1 underdog, but nobody had reckoned on his inspired ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic, which drained Foreman’s energy, before Ali scored a sensational eighth round knock-out. It was truly the stuff of legends and, more recently, the subject of a brilliant film documentary, ‘When We Were Kings’ (1996).
The Glitter Band attempted to re-invent themselves as the G Band with their single ‘Don’t Make Promises (You Can’t Keep)’, but this decision spectacularly backfired on them, with the record failing to make any impression on the chart (their previous single, ‘People Like You And People Like Me’ had gone top 5). They changed their name back for subsequent releases, but never graced the chart again. However, as with ‘People Like You And People Like Me’, they’d included a more dance based instrumental flip side, this time in a Jazz-Funk vein, called ‘Tuna Biscuit’. The track didn’t catch on in the same way as ‘Makes You Blind’, but, nevertheless, picked up some club support, whilst, once again, illustrating the band’s ability to play music other than the Glam Rock they’d become famous for, both via their own releases and, of course, as Gary Glitter’s backing band.
With the Disco era unfolding, nobody would have imagined that the Bee Gees would come to represent the genre for so many people. Starting out in the 60’s, the Gibb brothers’ first hit had been the bleakly titled ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’ in 1967, with their first number 1, ‘Massachusetts’, following later in the year. These, plus further hits like ‘Words’, ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ and ‘Run To Me’, were very much regarded as middle-of-the-road – the type of records your parents might buy. Then, in 1975, after a chart absence of 3 years, something very strange happened – the Bee Gees released a track you could dance to! This was ‘Jive Talkin’, which topped the US chart, whilst going top 5 in the UK. Produced by the great Arif Mardin (who sadly died last month), ‘Jive Talkin’’ provided a truly triumphant ‘comeback’ for the vocal trio, and would set them off in a direction that would lead to their pivotal contribution to one of the best selling album’s of all time, the soundtrack to the 1977 movie blockbuster, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, which would feature ‘You Should Be Dancing’ as one of its key tracks. This, in turn, would provide the launch pad for the Bee Gees to become the biggest money-spinning act on the planet during the late 70’s. But before all this happened, the self-produced ‘You Should Be Dancing’ would become a huge hit off its own steam, emulating the success of ‘Jive Talkin’’ 12 months earlier (number 1 in the US, number 5 in the UK), and becoming a Disco standard in the process.
From one of the recognisable names in pop history to a New Jersey band whose career was short-lived. Strutt released just one album, ‘Time Moves On’ in 1975, with the title track issued as a single in the UK in July ‘76, having been picked up by the DJ’s on the black music scene. Although it never managed to generate much mainstream interest, it was certainly a personal favourite of mine at the time; the track having something of an ethereal quality to my young ears, which set it apart.
The Trammps continued their prolific run of singles with yet another new 45, their third of 1976, ‘Soul Searching Time’. Just missing out on the UK top 40, the track stalled at number 42.
Philadelphia band, Peoples Choice, whose ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’ had been one of the biggest Funk singles of 1975, returned with a more uptempo offering, ‘Here We Go Again’, which failed to chart, but found dancefloor favour on both sides of the Atlantic.
Following on from ‘I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me’, Jimmy James & The Vagabonds took ‘Now Is The Time’ to number 5 in the UK. It was not only their biggest, but their final hit. Although it was a big success in terms of sales, James was accused of selling out and pandering to radio by Soul purists who’d previously supported the band, whilst the lyrics of ‘Now Is The Time’ were criticised for attempting to address serious political issues, whilst, although well-meaning, never really sounding what might be termed authentic in comparison to the message music of their US contemporaries.
Staying on a commercial tip, Elton John, who’d already had a run of US number 1’s, finally hit the top spot in the UK, although not as a solo artist. His duo with Kiki Dee, would be one of the year’s biggest selling singles (it also provided a further American number 1), and an extremely popular track on the mainstream club scene. Dee had scored a couple of UK top 20 successes with ‘Amoureuse’ (1973) and ‘I Got The Music In Me’ (1974), produced by John for his record label, Rocket. The Bradford born singer had previously been an unlikely signing for Motown’s Tamla label (being white and British), releasing an album, ‘Great Expectations’, for the company in 1970. A little known fact about Elton John is that he was not only the first British artist, but the first white performer to appear on the classic US TV show, Soul Train in 1975, performing ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ (another US chart topper). He’d later work with Philly producer Thom Bell, but the project was ill-fated, with just one minor hit, ‘Are You Ready For Love’ resulting from the collaboration. That was, of course, until 2003, when ‘Are You Ready For Love’ re-appeared on Norman Cook’s Southern Fried label, almost a quarter of a century on from its original release, hitting number 1 and going massive in the clubs. Incidentally, Elton John would have to wait another 14 years after ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ to secure his first British number 1 with ‘Sacrifice’, in 1990, almost 2 decades on from his first hit.
Next up is the experimental German band, Can, who released their one and only British hit, ‘I Want More’, a surprise ‘Disco’ single from their album ‘Flow Motion’ that reached number 26. Regarded as pioneers of Krautrock, along with bands like Tangerine Dream, Faust and Kraftwerk (before they went totally electronic), Can’s influence far outweighed their commercial success.
Having been released to total indifference earlier in the year, ‘Nice And Slow’, by Jesse Green, a Jamaican born singer based in Slough, was remixed in the US by Mel Cheren and Howard Metz, becoming a monster Disco track in the States, where it would reach the top 3 of Billboard’s Disco chart. Its British re-release also proved to be fruitful, with the track becoming a big club hit, whilst making number 17 on the pop chart. Cheren, a seminal New York figure who went on to set up West End Records, as well as being one of the financial backers of the hallowed club venue, the Paradise Garage, only ever remixed one other track, ‘I Get Lifted’ by Sweet Life’. Whilst Head Of Promotions for Scepter Records, Cheren had won the Trend Setter Of The Year award from Billboard for his idea of putting the instrumental versions of tracks on the flip side of 7” releases. He was also there at the birth of the 12” single in 1975, when remix pioneer Tom Moulton suggested cutting a 12” of the Scepter single ‘Call Me Your Anything Man’ by Bobby Moore, as a DJ promo (Salsoul would beat Scepter to the punch in releasing the first commercially available 12”, Double Exposure’s ‘Ten Percent’).
A major force in UK discos since 1974, when their single ‘Queen Of Clubs’ reached number 7 on chart, Miami’s KC & The Sunshine Band then conquered their US homeland in style, taking ‘Get Down Tonight’ to the summit of the Billboard chart in 1975. The band’s songwriters, Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, had already carved their names into Disco history via their composition ‘Rock Your Baby’, a worldwide hit for George McCrae (number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic), and a seminal record in terms of putting Disco music firmly on the map. Apart from George McCrae, Casey and Finch would also write and produce for Betty Wright (winning a Grammy for Best R&B Song with ‘Where Is The Love’) and Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne. ‘(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty’ was a return to form, following the disappointing ‘I’m So Crazy (‘Bout You)’ – ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’, their previous single, had been one of the most popular club tracks of ‘75, topping the US chart and going top 5 in the UK. Although it gave them their third American number 1, ‘Shake Your Booty’ fizzled out at number 22 in this country.
Onto Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, whose unmistakeable vocal style and, of course, guitar playing had helped ensure a long career, his first US R&B hit coming in 1955. After a somewhat fallow period, his 1976 album, ‘Ain’t That a Bitch’ was critically acclaimed, and the single, ‘I Need It’ a relative success in the UK, reaching number 35 and receiving plenty of club support, would launch a new chapter of success for the Texan born artist.
Tavares had announced their presence in British discos via 1975’s ‘It Only Takes A Minute’. However, the band failed to make any impact on the chart (despite the track going top 10 Stateside), but all that would change with ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel’, a big UK hit that peaked at number 4, whilst becoming one of the best-loved club tunes of the year. Admired for their tight vocal harmonies, the band was made up of five brothers from Massachusetts (talking of Massachusetts, Tavares would later record the Bee Gees song, ‘More Than A Woman’ for the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack – making them the 4th act included on this month’s Time Capsule who’d appear on the SNF soundtrack, alongside the Trammps, KC & The Sunshine Band and the Bee Gees). Produced by Freddie Perren, who first made his name as part of The Corporation, who wrote and produced early Jackson 5 hits like ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘ABC’, before working on numerous Disco favourites, by artists including Gloria Gaynor, The Miracles, Peaches & Herb, The Sylvers and Yvonne Ellimen (most notably on ‘If I Can’t Have You’, yet another ‘Saturday Night Fever’ track).
As with the Trammps, this was the Fatback Band’s third single release in 1976, following ‘(Do The) Spanish Hustle’ and ‘Party Time’. It was very much in the same style as ‘Spanish Hustle’, but although it crept into the top 40 at number 38, it never caught on in the same way. The ‘Saturday Night Fever’ connections just keep on coming as this record, of course, illustrates a time when the title, ‘Night Fever’ was associated with a black act, as opposed to the white brothers Gibb, who’d write their own song of the same name as the title track of the movie.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s Lou Rawls with the wonderful ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’. Chicago born Rawls was a high school classmate of the great Sam Cooke, with whom he sang in a 50’s Gospel group called The Teenage Kings Of Harmony (he’d later sing backing vocals on the Cooke classic, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’). He signed to Capitol Records in 1962, establishing himself as one of the era’s great Soul and Jazz voices (he was namechecked in the esteemed company of Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and James Brown on Arthur Conley’s 60’s classic ‘Sweet Soul Music’), with Frank Sinatra saying that Rawls had ‘the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game’. The Beatles were also fans, and in 1966 he opened for them at their gig in Cincinnati. Lou Rawls died earlier this year, having recorded over 60 albums (picking up 3 Grammys – having been nominated 13 times), whilst reportedly selling 40 million records in the process, but the track he’s most remembered for is ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’, written and produced by Philly Sound maestro’s, Gamble & Huff, which reached number 2 in the US and number 10 in the UK (it was his only British hit).
‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ is a record that will always bring to mind the Penny Farthing for me. There used to be an older black guy, who’d come in from time to time, who always requested it. I can’t remember his name, but he was a friend of Danny and Tommy Tsang, who ran the club. As soon as I played it he’d send a drink over for me – this became something of a ritual. More recently, a few months into my DJ comeback, I chose ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ as the ‘one more tune’ following my first appearance in Liverpool since my return, consciously linking back to my early DJ days.
With my schooldays now firmly behind me (not that I was there very much for the last few months, missing some of my exams and coming away with next to no academic qualifications), I toyed with the idea of going on to a College Of Further Education, but without any real conviction. Things were going well for me on the DJ front and, in relative terms for a 16 year old just out of school, I was earning good money. I’d also bought myself a ‘nifty fifty’ (a 50cc Honda moped), so I was mobile, or as mobile as I could legally be until I was 17 and able to drive a car. So, all in all, I was far more independent than other lads of my age and background; most of whom were looking for an apprenticeship, on meagre wages, or planning to go to 6th form or taking up a college course. I was enjoying a lifestyle beyond my years and my teenage ego was suitably massaged.
Whilst enjoying the present, I was also looking towards the future. Back then, a DJ with any ambition set their sights on getting onto the radio and my aim was to do this before I was 18. A stepping stone towards this was Hospital Radio and, the previous month, I’d visited Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral, as someone had mentioned to me that they had their own internal radio station, Radio Clatterbridge, and I thought I’d enquire about auditioning for my own show. I came away somewhat disillusioned, having been told that I’d have to spend many months visiting the wards to collect requests from the patients, whilst generally helping out around the station, before I’d even be considered as a possible presenter on the station. There was already a waiting list of people who wanted to do their own programmes, if and when they became available, so it looked like Hospital Radio was something of a dead end for me (at least in the short-medium term). But, as they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and around this time I met a guy called Norman Walker. Norman was a lot older than me, in his 30’s I think, and his ‘proper’ job was driving an ambulance, but at the weekends he worked for a local mobile disco firm, deejaying at weddings and 21st’s. Norman had seen me at work in the Penny and must have thought I was pretty decent. We got chatting and he told me he did a show on Radio Catherine in Birkenhead, which was based in St Catherine’s Hospital (he’d found out about it via his work for the Ambulance service). He took me along to the station to see him do his show and, to my surprise (and delight), he let me do a short spot, which went pretty well. This was repeated the following week, but I was unable to go again for a few weeks after that because Norman’s show was on a Wednesday and I’d been asked to fill in at the Penny on that night for the next 3 weeks. It seemed that I’d lost the momentum, but things would move up another notch in August.
The summer was well and truly upon us, and what a summer it was! I’m writing this on what has been the hottest July day since records in the UK began; we’re experiencing a heatwave, just as we did in that remarkable summer of ‘76. It was really something else, the Met Office describing it in the following way: ‘The long hot summer of 1976 which eventually ended in September of that year, was the culmination of a 16-month dry spell – the longest recorded over England and Wales since 1727’. One of the side-effects of this was an explosion in the ladybird population, and anyone who was around at the time will remember walls and bushes turned red and black as swarms of ladybirds covered them!
New Brighton really came into its own when the sun shone down, for it could boast what was once heralded locally as the largest outdoor bathing pool in the world (12,000 people attending its opening in 1934). New Brighton Baths was a major part of my youth, with the summer of ‘76 a truly golden year. New Brighton is such a different place to what it was when I was a kid, so much has gone – the Tower Grounds and outdoor fair, the Pier, nearly all the buildings on the main road, Victoria Road, where I used to live (although my old home remains intact), the Bowling Alley (replaced by a new one), to name some of the significant places of my youth. But of them all, the fact that New Brighton Baths is no longer there leaves me with the greatest sadness. It was demolished following storms in 1990, which irreparably damaged the structure. My heart still sinks every time I drive past the empty space where once it stood.
I was only recently reminded about a ‘pop spectacular’ called ‘New Brighton Rocks’, which was held at New Brighton Baths in May 1984, some time after I’d left the area. Gloria Gaynor was one of the acts who appeared, along with (if my memory serves me correctly, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, as headliners). It was screened by Granada TV, who staged the event, the following month, but, for some strange reason, I neither saw it nor taped it.
New Brighton Baths may be long gone, but the memories of that glorious summer will always remain. Listening to what was the soundtrack of those days for me (and many others), whilst the sun beats down outside, really transports me back. There’s nothing like music when it comes to evoking a time and place in your life.
Records from July 1976.
Revisited July 2006.