James Brown – Get Up Offa That Thing (Polydor)
Michel Polnareff – Lipstick (Atlantic)
Crown Heights Affair – Foxy Lady (Polydor)
Banbarra – Shack Up (United Artists)
War – Me And Baby Brother (Island)
Ohio Players – Who’d She Coo? (Mercury)
Kay-Gees – Hustle Wit Every Muscle (Polydor)
Parliament – Mothership Connection (Star Child) (Casablanca)
Isley Brothers – Harvest For The World (Epic)
Impact – Happy Man (Atlantic)
Foxy – Get Off Your Aahh! And Dance (Jayboy)
Lee Eldred – How’s Your Love Life (Mercury)
Marlena Shaw – It’s Better Than Walkin’ Out (Blue Note)
Muscle Shoals Horns – Born To Get Down (London)
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together (Island)
Real Thing – You To Me Are Everything (Pye)
Brothers Johnson – I’ll Be Good To You (A&M)
Earth Wind & Fire – Reasons (CBS)
Dorothy Moore – Misty Blue (Contempo)
Manhattans – Kiss And Say Goodbye (CBS)
Other tracks considered: Brecker Brothers – If You Wanna Boogie (Arista) / Dennis Coffey – Finger Lickin’ Good (Atlantic) / Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes – Dancin’ Kid (Chelsea) / Jim Gilstrap – Move Me (Chelsea) / Jimmy Castor Bunch – Bom Bom (Atlantic) / L.J Johnson – Dancing On The Edge Of A Dream (Mercury) / Osibisa – Dance The Body Music (Bronze) / Philly Devotions – Hurt So Bad (CBS)
James Brown was back with his first single to make the UK chart since ‘Hey America’ in 1971, arguably his final Funk classic, ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’. This is another example of a track that broke via the sustained support of club DJ’s, who continued to spin it throughout the summer months, before it eventually entered the chart in September, beginning a climb to number 22.
French born Michel Polnareff, who’d become famous in his home country during the 60’s, scored a big Disco hit Stateside with ‘Lipstick’, the instrumental title track from a movie that starred the actress Margaux Hemmingway. The unconventional singer / guitarist / keyboardist was never far from scandal during the early 70’s, not least when the French authorities demanded over 1 million francs from him in unpaid taxes, resulting in his decision to leave the country and head to the US, where he’d live in exile. Eventually settling in Los Angeles, Polnareff signed for Atlantic Records and made his US breakthrough in 1975 with the hit single, ‘Jesus For Tonight’, taken from his album ‘U.S.A’. ‘Lipstick’ would become something of a signature tune for me – the track I opened the night with, taking to the microphone to welcome people to club and tell them what would be happening during the night, whilst inviting them to come to see me if they wanted to make requests and dedications, as was the way back then in British discotheques.
Brooklyn’s Crown Heights Affair were back with ‘Foxy Lady’, following on from their success in the UK clubs with ‘Dreaming A Dream’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’ (both of which were huge on US dancefloors, reaching numbers 1 and 2 respectively on the Billboard Disco chart).
Recorded in Washington D.C, Banbarra’s ‘Shack Up’ had passed by pretty much unnoticed following its US release, but began to pick up club plays in the UK as an import, prompting United Artists to issue it here. Although it never charted, it would become something of a Funk standard, which would fill dancefloors for a long time to come. It eventually began to receive the acclaim it deserved in the US as Hip Hop grew in popularity, the break from ‘Shack Up’ being one of the most widely sampled of all. Amazingly this was the only recording ever made by Banbarra and, as such, the fascinating subject of an article I’ve written that will soon appear in the US magazine, Wax Poetics.
Another bona fide Funk classic, War’s ‘Me And Baby Brother’, was originally released here on United Artists Records in 1973, but, despite going massive in the clubs, failed to make any impression on the UK chart. As I’ve mentioned previously, Funk never received the radio support that reflected its popularity in the discos, and, as a result, hit records were few and far between, despite the genre producing numerous club classics. However, following the surprise success of ‘Low Rider’ earlier in the year, and to help promote a UK tour by the band, Island re-issued ‘Me And Baby Brother’, which would fare much better this time around, just missing the top 20 (peaking at 21). Whilst the hustle never really caught on in Britain, another US dance craze, the bump, took off big style, the height of its popularity being 74/75. ‘Me And Baby Brother’ was a massive bump tune, right up there with tracks like ‘Tom The Peeper’ by Act One and ‘Get Dancing’ by Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes (also the follow up to ‘Get Dancing’, ‘I Wanna Dance Wit Choo’, to which couples would do the ‘double-bump’!).
The Ohio Players returned with ‘Who’d She Coo?’ from the album ‘Contradiction’. This was, remarkably, their only ever record (single or album) to make the UK chart, reaching number 43.
ProtÃ©gÃ©s of Kool & The Gang (guitarist Kevin Bell was the brother of Ronald Bell), the Kay-Gees never managed to emulate their success, but they could still cook up a good groove; something which hasn’t been lost on number of Hip Hop artists, including Dr Dre, Big Daddy Kane, House Of Pain and Kanye West, who’ve all sampled the Kay-Gees in more recent times.
Parliament’s ‘Mothership Connection’ album was released in the UK in June ‘76, whilst ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker’ and ‘P Funk’ were issued back-to-back as the bands debut British single. Having already got into Parliament via the import singles, I bought a copy of this groundbreaking album, which made a big impression on me (as it did on many others). ‘Mothership Connection (Star Child)’ was another key track that picked up club plays.
The Isley Brothers were one of the most enduring black music groups. Having started out in the early 50’s, their breakthrough came back in 1959, when their composition, ‘Shout’, became a million seller in the US. (‘Shout’ would later take the 15 year old Lulu into the top 10 of the UK chart in 1964). Their 1962 hit, ‘Twist And Shout’, a cover of the 1961 Top Notes single (produced by Phil Spector), would, in turn, be covered by The Beatles, having become one of the Fab Four’s most popular live numbers (The Beatles also performed ‘Shout’ live). For a short time during 1964 the Isley’s included a young guitarist, destined for greatness later in the decade, the then unknown Jimi Hendrix. Their Motown period spawned some big singles, including ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’, ‘Behind A Painted Smile’ and ‘I Guess I’ll Always Love You’ – all from the mid-late 60’s. Then, having left the Motown fold, they released a third wave of classic singles via their own company, T-Neck, most notably 1973’s ‘That Lady’ (originally ‘Who’s That Lady’, a track they’d first recorded, without success, almost a decade earlier), ‘Summer Breeze’ (1974), and the track included here, ‘Harvest For The World’, which would reach number 10 on the UK chart.
Impact featured vocalist Damon Harris, who became a member of The Temptations in 1971 (replacing the great Eddie Kendricks, when he left the band to pursue a solo career). He spent the next 4 years with The Temptations, before parting company in 1975, due to differences with the rest of the group. Although ‘Happy Man’ would be Impact’s best known track over here, ‘Give A Broken Heart A Break’ would prove to be more popular in the US discos. They were dropped by their US record label, Atco, after just one album, the self-titled ‘Impact’, but would then sign to Fantasy and record a second album, ‘The Pac Is Back’, which would be released on WMOT in 1977.
Foxy, led by Cuban born Ish Ledesma, were signed to Henry Stone’s legendary Miami based TK label, with ‘Get Off Your Aahh! And Dance’, a latin flavoured Disco favourite, reaching the top 20 of the US disco chart, before being released in Britain on Jayboy. The TK label wouldn’t exist in the UK until 1977 – before this, TK recordings, by artists like George McCrae and KC & The Sunshine Band, were issued here on Jayboy.
Lee Eldred’s ‘How’s Your Love Life’ made little impact in the US, but was a popular club track in the UK without ever making the chart. Listening to it now, you might be forgiven for thinking it had gay undertones, given the line ‘got a lot of queens out there tonight – looking good too’, which appears early in the track. However, I’m sure it wasn’t intended this way, the term ‘queen’ not specific to the gay scene back.
‘It’s Better Than Walkin’ Out’ was the first 12” issued on the famous Blue Note label in the US (it would still be a couple more months before the first 12” singles appeared in the UK). Known more as a Jazz artist, Marlena Shaw embraced Disco with this release, which was co-written by Lee Garrett, who was still riding high in the UK with his own single, ‘You’re My Everything’. Nowadays, the song most associated with Marlena Shaw is probably the Ashford & Simpson composition, ‘California Soul’, which was used as one of the tracks in KFC’s Soul Food TV campaign in 2003, having been re-discovered by Rare Grooves aficionado, DJ Norman Jay.
Formed in the late 60’s, The Muscle Shoals Horns were originally part of the ‘Fame Gang’ of session musicians, who recorded with a veritable who’s who of R&B artists in the 60’s and 70’s at Alabama’s Fame Studios (and, later, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio) and included the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Having helped out on a couple of US number 1’s in ‘74 and ‘75 – John Lennon’s ‘Whatever Gets You Thru’ The Night’ and Elton John’s ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ – the Muscle Shoals Horns turned their attention to their own recordings. The album, ‘Born To Get Down’, included the single of the same name, issued in the UK on London Records.
Bryan Ferry, the lead singer of Roxy Music, had already scored a hat-trick of top 20 solo hits. These, in contrast to the tracks he was recording with Roxy Music, were all cover versions – ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ (Bob Dylan), ‘The ‘In’ Crowd’ (Dobie Gray) and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ (The Platters). ‘Let’s Stick Together’ was originally recorded by R&B singer Wilbert Harrison in 1962, but was best-known in its re-worked form as ‘Let’s Work Together’ by US band Canned Heat in 1970. ‘Let’s Stick Together’ would become Ferry’s biggest solo single, peaking at number 4 (not quite as high as Canned Heat, who’d reached number 2). The video clip for the single featured Ferry’s then girlfriend, Jerry Hall, who had a walk on part, appearing in a tiger skin costume miming the distinctive whooping in the break of the track (Ferry had met Hall when she was photographed for the cover of Roxy Music’s 1975 album, ‘Siren’).
Hailing from Toxteth, the black district of Liverpool, The Real Thing had been together for 4 years before the release of ‘You To Me Are Everything’, originally announcing their presence via the TV talent show, ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Prior to ‘You To Me Are Everything’, their main claim to fame was that they’d worked with David Essex, both in the studio and live, Essex being a major British Pop star at the time. Their line-up in 1976 consisted of brothers Chris and Eddie Amoo, Dave Smith and Ray Lake. Eddie had been a member of The Chants, a vocal group who The Beatles had once provided the backing for at The Cavern in Liverpool, during a gig in 1962 (following the recommendation of The Beatles, Brian Epstein would be their manager for a short period). Like many other Liverpool bands during the Merseybeat era they managed to land a record deal, signing to Pye Records. They’d sustain their career throughout the 60’s, recording for a variety of labels (Fontana, Decca, Page One and RCA, as well as Pye), but never cracked the pop chart. By the early 70’s there was little interest in The Chants outside of the cabaret circuit, their recording career at an end. Eddie wrote for The Real Thing, but didn’t become a full-time member until the band, as with The Chants before them, signed to Pye (having previously released unsuccessful singles for Bell and EMI). As one door closes another door opens – The Chants were no more, but The Real Thing finally hit the jackpot with ‘You To Me Are Everything’, courtesy of songwriter, Ken Gold. Eddie Amoo described the track as ‘quasi-soul’, explaining that ‘for a British Soul group to have a hit in England in the 70s, it had to be a quasi-soul record. It had to sound like a Soul record but have a very very strong pop overtone’. In this case, the balance between Soul and Pop was perfect, and ‘You To Me Are Everything’ not only took off in the clubs, but, most crucially, on radio – the record quickly making its way to the UK number 1 slot.
Produced by the legendary Quincy Jones, the Brothers Johnson burst on the scene in a big way with their debut album ‘Look Out For #1’. Quincy heralded them as ‘two of the baddest cats I have ever heard’ (and he’d certainly heard some cats in his time) and everyone sat up and listened as the brothers, 20 year old bassist Louie and 22 year old guitarist George, backed up the hyperbole with some serious groove action that saw the album go all the way to the top of the US R&B chart. ‘I’ll Be Good To You’ was the first single to be taken from the album.
The programme finishes with a trio of truly classic slowies. First up is Earth Wind & Fire with ‘Reasons’, another single pulled from the album ‘That’s The Way Of The World’ and a sure-fire end of night favourite, featuring the falsetto vocal of Philip Bailey on what would be regarded as his signature ballad. Next up is ‘Misty Blue’, a Deep Soul crossover from Dorothy Moore, which sold a million in the US following its release on the Malaco label, before Contempo licensed it for the UK, guaranteeing a big Blues & Soul push, which resulted in the labels most successful single (reaching number 5 on the UK chart). Finally it’s New Jersey veterans, The Manhattans, who went one better with ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’, which peaked at number 4, having gone all the way to the top spot on the US chart, eventually selling over 4 million copies in total.
I received my first promos in June ‘76, or, to give them their full name, Advanced Promotion copies. Club promotion was more evolved in this country than it was in the US, and dated back to the early 70’s – with record companies identifying the fact that club DJ’s were influential in helping to break records, especially those that were receiving little radio support. Whereas US club DJ’s were having to go to the record companies to get free product in the mid-70’s, most UK record companies were sending promos out to their mailing lists of selected club DJ’s up and down the country – the major labels eventually all setting up their own separate club promotions departments. New York’s Record Pool wasn’t launched until June ‘75, but, in addition to direct club promotion via the London-based record companies, there were already DJ Associations in the UK servicing new releases to club DJ’s in a similar way to the New York Record Pool.
It was quite a revelation to learn that there was a way of getting records before they were available in the shops (you’d be mailed a record up to 6 weeks in advance of its UK release), especially as you didn’t even have to pay for the privilege! However, it wasn’t until I bought a copy of ‘Emperor Rosko’s DJ Book’ that I had the addresses and phone numbers for all the main record companies in this country; this vital information being discovered in the appendix section at the back of the book. I quickly set about phoning all the numbers to find out if they had mailing lists and how I could get on them.
Slowly but surely my name was added to every worthwhile list there was and, within a year, I was receiving advanced copies of pretty much every Soul, Funk and Disco record that was released in the UK (not to mention the numerous Pop / Rock / Punk releases that I was also sent). I listed everything that was mailed to me until May 1978, by which point the postman had delivered no less than 1,733 records to my door! All in all I must have been mailed somewhere in the region of 10,000 records before I retired from DJ work in 1984 (I was still being sent records by some companies years after I’d stopped!).
The very first mailing list I got on was a company called M.I.F, who mailed out choice tracks for a number of labels, including Polydor, Mercury, Island, Motown, Virgin, MCA and Arista, plus many others. I’d struck gold – this was a brilliant list to get on! M.I.F was run by a guy called Garrell Redfearn, a real Disco pioneer in this country, who would later be one of the people behind the excellent, although, sadly, short-lived British publication ‘Disco’, which was launched in early 1979 from the same Earlham Street address as M.I.F.
The first 6 promos I was mailed (all in June ‘76) were:
‘Move Me’ – Jim Gilstrap
‘Foxy Lady’ – Crown Heights Affair
‘Who’d She Coo?’ – Ohio Players
‘Hustle Wit’ Every Muscle’ – Kay-Gees
‘Born To Get Down’ – Muscle Shoals Horns
‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ – James Brown
I was obviously overjoyed to be receiving such quality records ahead of most other DJ’s. This marked the start of an extremely fruitful relationship I’d have with the various club promotion departments throughout my time as a DJ – and all thanks to the Emperor Rosko!
Heralded by Derek Chinnery, the Head Of Radio 1, as ‘the most comprehensive book of its kind ever written’, ‘Emperor Rosko’s DJ Book’ was more of a radio DJ’s manual, but contained a section on ‘Discos’ (both mobile and clubs). Rosko (real name – Michael Pasternak) hailed from America, but made his name in Europe, presenting shows for Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg, before joining Radio 1 when it launched in 1967. His presentation style was very much in the mould of the famed Brooklyn born DJ, Wolfman Jack (real name – Bob Smith), who, in turn, was influenced by the ‘jive talk’ of black and black influenced DJ’s like Dr Jive, Jockey Jack, Professor Bob and Sugar Daddy. Three volumes of ‘The Rosko Show’ LP were issued on Atlantic Records between 1972-75, featuring the Emperor on the microphone, linking classic Soul tracks from the label.
Having lost my Saturday night at the Chelsea Reach in May, I was asked to return, this time taking over the Friday, with the promise of further work on other nights whenever possible, the management putting my dismissal down to a misunderstanding. I was obviously delighted at this turn of events and gained confidence from the fact that they’d realised it was a mistake to let me go. It was also timely, as Peepers, the disco room under the Grand, which was intended to challenge the Chelsea, had opened in a blaze of mediocrity! There was no money put into promoting it and the room had hardly changed from when it was used for functions (the last time I’d been in there was for a wedding reception), whilst the sound and lights were as basic as they came (and they did come pretty basic in those days, even in the better clubs). Needless to say, it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave the Grand now I was back at the Chelsea.
More of my top 10’s appeared in Blues & Soul during June, and this would continue on into the 80’s. Bob Killbourne would publicise my nights in his column when he printed the top 10’s, but it wasn’t until 1979 that Frank Elson, the magazines Northern correspondent, visited one of my clubs (the Golden Guinea).
This was the month that I attended my first All-Nighter, at a club in Liverpool called Phase II. I went over with some older lads after I’d finished work at The Grand. They gave me some speed, for the first time, in the form of slimming pills called Filon and ‘Pirelli’. I was never a great fan of speed and, although I took it every now and then, it was only generally when I needed to stay awake all night, rather than for any buzz. I also tried a joint around this time, but it had no effect on me whatsoever, so it would be a while before I gave it another go. Besides, it was very rare back then that you’d come across anyone who got stoned – in the area I lived, and most places where there was next to no black people, it was usually only old hippies who might know where to get ‘pot’. Speed was much more connected with the club scene due to the All-Nighters, which dated back to the days of the Mods in the 60’s. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that the pills I thought were called ‘Pirelli’s’ were in fact Prellies (Preludin), the selfsame amphetamine tablets that The Beatles first took in Hamburg during the early 60’s to help them ‘mach shau’ for hours on end. I assumed ‘Pirelli’s’ was a slang term, named after the tyres, because they made you go faster!
Records from June 1976.
Revisited June 2006.