Boney M – Sunny (Atlantic)
Tony Etoria – I Can Prove It (GTO)
Black Satin Featuring Fred Parris – Tears Tears Tears (Buddah)
Double Exposure – My Love Is Free (Salsoul)
Donald Byrd – Dance Band (Blue Note)
Fatback Band – Double Dutch (Spring)
Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke (Motown)
Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan – At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up) (ABC)
Rah Band – The Crunch (Good Earth)
Barry White – I’m Qualified To Satisfy You (20th Century)
Bo Kirkland & Ruth Davis – You’re Gonna Get Next To Me (EMI International)
Tavares – Whodunit (Capitol)
Commodores – Fancy Dancer (Motown)
Temptations – Shakey Ground (Motown)
Average White Band – Goin’ Home (Atlantic)
Brass Construction – What’s On Your Mind (United Artists)
Rose Royce – I Wanna Get Next To You (MCA)
Deniece Williams – Free (CBS)
Other tracks considered: AJL Band – Sweet Sticky Thing (Baal) / Barbara Pennington – You Are The Music Within Me (United Artists) / Billy Paul – I Trust You (Philadelphia International) / Carol Woods – I’m In Wonderland (RCA) / Donald Byrd – Dancing In The Street (Blue Note) / Double Exposure – Baby I Need Your Loving (Salsoul) / Eddie Quansah – Che Che Kule (Island) / Grace Jones – That’s The Trouble (Polydor) / Kalyan – Disco Reggae (Island) / Lalo Schifrin – Theme From Most Wanted (CTI) / Love Unlimited Orchestra – Theme From King Kong (20th Century) / Maxine Nightingale – Love Hit Me (United Artists) / Natalie Cole – I’ve Got Love On My Mind (Capitol) / Patti Austin – Say You Love Me (CTI) / Silver Convention – Telegram (Magnet) / Wilton Place Street Band – Disco Lucy (Island)
Having made their breakthrough in the UK with ‘Daddy Cool’, Boney M consolidated their newly found popularity with ‘Sunny’, which would reach number 3 on the British chart. Originally recorded by its writer, Bobby Hebb, ‘Sunny’ was a big US hit in 1966, and would also score in the UK, where it climbed to number 12. The song was born of tragedy – Hebb’s brother had been killed in a knife fight outside a Nashville nightclub on November 23rd 1963 (the day after JFK had been assassinated). Hebb, distraught at what had happened, set out to write a song that looked towards a brighter day. ‘Sunny’ has since become one of the most covered popular songs, with recordings by artists including Cher and Georgie Fame (who both had UK hits with it in ‘66), Frank Sinatra with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Wilson Pickett, The Four Tops, The Four Seasons, Dusty Springfield, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and even Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock from Star Trek). Hebb actually re-recorded a Disco version in 1976, but it failed to make much of an impression. Despite being huge in the UK and throughout Europe, Boney M’s cover surprisingly failed to show on the US Disco chart. In 2004, Boogie Pimps sampled the Boney M version for their UK top 10 hit, ‘Sunny’.
Cardiff’s Tony Etoria would just miss the top 20, reaching number 21 with his only UK hit, ‘I Can Prove It’, a track he wrote himself and would later be covered by another British artist, Phil Fearon (who’d enjoyed previous hits with Galaxy), reaching number 8 in 1986. Following his brief flirtation with fame, Etoria returned to obscurity, his planned album failing to materialise.
Despite receiving an extremely poor review in Blues & Soul, who dismissed the track as ‘a rather drab neo-disco item’, Black Satin’s ‘Tears Tears Tears’ would achieve cult status with a number of British DJ’s, myself included, and is nowadays valued as a rarity, especially the promo only US 12″. Originally written back in the 60’s by Black Satin’s leader, Fred Parris, as a ballad, ‘Tears Tears Tears’ was recorded by Ben E King, becoming a US R&B hit in 1966. Black Satin had actually started out in 1954 as The Five Satins, only changing their name for a brief period in the mid-70’s. The Five Satins were a popular Doo Wop group who recorded one of the classics of the genre, ‘In The Still Of The Night’ from 1956, which is regarded by many as the definitive Doo Wop love song. Although they had some subsequent success, they never had another hit of this magnitude and, by the 70’s, the group had become part of the oldies circuit, their music harking back to former times. However, having re-named themselves Black Satin, they recorded a minor R&B hit in 1975, their first for 16 years, called ‘Everybody Stand Up And Clap Your Hands (For The Entertainer)’. An album followed, which included ‘Tears Tears Tears’, and the track was finally released as a UK single in March 1977 on the Buddah label, following its US appearance the previous year.
Having picked up a copy of the Double Exposure album from RCA’s Manchester office, as I mentioned in last months text, I began to feature ‘My Love Is Free’ along with the band’s cover of the Motown classic ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’. ‘My Love Is Free’ had reached number 15 on US Disco chart a few months earlier.
I was now beginning to receive a regular supply of albums from the record companies. Donald Byrd’s ‘Caricatures’ arrived in this way and ‘Dance Band’ was the choice cut, along with another Motown cover, ‘Dancing In The Street’. With the grandiose full name of Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II, Donald Byrd had a lot to live up to, but he’d become a legendary Jazz trumpeter, starting out in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messangers in the 50’s, and going on to work with numerous greats, including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. In the 70’s he became one of the major Jazz-Fusion figures, releasing what’s considered to be his finest album. ‘Places And Spaces’ in 1975, including 2 of his most memorable tracks, ‘(Fallin’ Like) Dominoes’ and ‘Change (Makes You Wanna Hustle)’. Although ‘Caricatures’ was generally well received, it couldn’t live up to its illustrious predecessor – despite being a commercial success it failed to pick up the same level of critical acclaim. Following this album he’d part company with legendary producers, the Mizell Brothers, with whom he’d collaborated for a number of years. Apart from his own recordings, Byrd is also remembered for his work with The Blackbyrds, a group of his best students, which he’d put together in 1974 when teaching music at a variety Universities. The Blackbyrds would release the classic singles, ‘Walking In Rhythm’ (a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic) and ‘Rock Creek Park’. His most popular solo single, ‘Love Has Come Around’ would reach number 41 on the UK chart, as a double-a with ‘Loving You’, in 1981.
‘Double Dutch’ was yet another hit from the Fatback Band. Peaking at number 31, this would be the last time they made the UK chart in the 70’s, not returning until 1980 and the release of ‘Backstrokin’’.
Stevie Wonder’s second single to be taken from his landmark album, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, was ‘Sir Duke’, his tribute to Jazz great, Duke Ellington. It only just missed the number 1 spot on the British chart, being kept from the summit by his former backing singer, Deniece Williams (more later). This was however, along with 1969’s ‘Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday’, his biggest British hit to date, and would follow ‘I Wish’ to the top of the charts Stateside. When the album had been first released ‘Sir Duke’ was listed at number 2 on US Disco chart, along with ‘Another Star’, ‘I Wish’ and ‘Isn’t She Lovely’.
Rufus were led by the dynamic Chaka Khan, one of the great female vocalists. Khan, from Chicago, was born Yvette Marie Stevens, but adopted the African name ‘Chaka’ whilst working as a volunteer on the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast For Children program in the late 60’s. In 1971 she joined Rufus (originally known as Ask Rufus) a multi-racial band who’d go on to become one of the decades top Funk outfits. She’d get married that year, acquiring the surname Khan in the process. Having signed to ABC Records, Rufus released their first album, the self-titled ‘Rufus’ in 1973. Their big breakthrough came via the single, ‘Tell Me Something Good’, which was taken from their second album, 1974’s ‘Rags To Rufus’ (the band name now amended to Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan). ‘Tell Me Something Good’ was specially penned for the band by Stevie Wonder, who’d been greatly impressed by their debut LP, and would go on to sell a million copies, picking up the Grammy for Best Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus. Their third album ‘Rufusized’, once again issued in ‘74, continued the momentum and the band would tour with heavyweight acts like The Rolling Stones, Earth Wind & Fire and Sly & The Family Stone, whilst tracks including ‘Once You Get Started’, ‘Stop On By’ and ‘Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)’ further enhanced their reputation, as did 1975’s ‘Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan’, which included ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Dance Wit’ Me’ and their version of the Bee Gees’ ‘Jive Talkin’’. ‘At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)’ is from the band’s fifth album, ‘Ask Rufus’, and made it to number 37 on the US Disco chart. Chaka Khan would continue to record with Rufus until 1983, culminating in what is probably their most enduring single, ‘Ain’t Nobody’, but this would also run parallel with a highly successful solo career, including the major hits ‘I’m Every Woman’, from her debut album, ‘Chaka’, in 1978, and her cover version of the Prince song, ‘I Feel For You’, in 1984.
Formed by Richard Anthony Hewson from Stockton-On-Tees, the Rah Band (in effect a one man band, although vocals were added to some of their later material) scored a top 10 hit with their first release, ‘The Crunch’, which went as high as number 6 in the UK. Hewson, who’d also record as the Richard Hewson Orchestra and, later, Key West, was an arranger, conductor and multi-instrumentalist. A long established figure in the British music industry, he’d previously worked with some of the major acts of the late 60’s – mid 70’s, having received his break when Paul McCartney asked him to arrange the strings on the Mary Hopkin chart topper, ‘Those Were The Days’ in 1968, before going on to record with The Beatles (including, ironically, the controversial orchestra and choral arrangements on McCartney’s ‘The Long And Winding Road’), Wings, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Herbie Hancock, Leo Sayer, Supertramp, Chris DeBurgh, Chris Rea, Art Garfunkle, Al Stewart etc. Following ‘The Crunch’, subsequent Rah Band releases failed to take off, and ‘they’ were pretty much written off as a one hit wonder. However, in 1980, a single called ‘Falcon’ took off in a big way on the Jazz-Funk scene and took the Rah Band back into the top 40. Further chart singles followed, including ‘Slide’, ‘Perfumed Garden’ and ‘Message From The Stars’, all of which made the top 50. Then, in 1985, the Rah Band emulated the success of ‘The Crunch’, 8 years on, reaching number 6 on the chart with ‘Clouds Across The Moon’, which featured Hewson’s wife, Liz, on vocals. Hewson, who now concentrates on writing and producing music for UK television shows and advertisements, also produced Pop acts like Toyah and Five Star, Shakin’ Stevens and Cliff Richard.
Barry White continued to release club favourites; his latest, ‘I’m Qualified To Satisfy You’, reaching number 37 on the UK chart and number 33 on the US Disco chart.
Solo singers Bo Kirkland, from Mississippi, and Arkansas born Ruth Davis combined to great effect to record a one-off album, ‘Bo And Ruth’, for the small LA based label, Claridge, for whom they both recorded separately. EMI in the UK picked it up and issued ‘You’re Gonna Get Next To Me’ as a single and, following support by the more specialist DJ’s, the track eventually entered the chart at the start of June, going on to reach number 12. It would be their one and only hit.
‘Whodunit’ was the third Tavares top 5 hit in less than a year, but unlike the Disco favourites, ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel’ and ‘Don’t Take Away The Music’, this was more novelty based, its lyrics namechecking a whole host of TV and film detectives. Failed to register on the US Disco chart.
The Commodores returned in full-on Funk mode with their latest single, ‘Fancy Dancer’, a US Disco number 33. Once again they failed to add to their 2 hits from ‘74, ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘The Zoo (The Human Zoo)’, but their next single was destined to provide the crucial breakthrough for the band.
Arguably the greatest Soul group of all, The Temptations were one of Motown’s core acts throughout the 60’s and into the 70’s, stacking up hit after hit after hit, both with their own releases and in collaboration with The Supremes. By the mid 70’s, 3 of the band’s ‘classic five’ members, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, had moved on, but they were still a major force in black music. ‘Shakey Ground’, from the album, ‘A Song For You’, first appeared in 1975, and would become the band’s 14th and final Billboard R&B number 1. Enlisting the services of Parliament guitarist Eddie Hazel and his band, for its authentic Funk sound, the track was produced by Jeffrey Bowen, who’d taken over from their legendary producer, Norman Whitfield. In 1977, when Pheobe Snow released her version of the track, Motown in the UK re-activated the original in response, but neither single made the chart here. ‘Law Of The Land’ would remain the last UK hit by The Temptations (number 41 in 1973) until their collaboration with Rick James, ‘Standing On The Top’ reached 53 in 1982.
Neither of the new singles by Average White Band, ‘Goin’ Home’, or Brass Construction, ‘What’s On Your Mind’, made the chart, but Rose Royce’s latest offering, ‘I Wanna Get Next To You’, a sublime slowie, which was once again taken from the ‘Car Wash’ soundtrack, reached number 14 in the UK and was a massively popular end night tune in the clubs.
Finally it’s another truly beautiful ballad. ‘Free’ by Deniece Williams, a track that would go all the way to the top of the UK chart. As mentioned earlier, Williams, from Gary, Indiana (who’d recorded under her real name, Deniece Chandler, for Chicago label Toddlin’ Town in the 60’s) had been a member of Stevie Wonder’s backup group, Wonderlove, adding her vocals to a quartet of classic Wonder albums between 1972-74 – ‘Music Of My Mind’, ‘Talking Book’, ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’. Signing to Columbia Records, she’d become a Soul star in her own right, hooking-up with Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, who expertly produced her album ‘This Is Niecy’. ‘Free’ would peak at number 2 on the US R&B chart, whilst being listed alongside ‘It’s Important For Me’ when reaching number 31 on the Disco chart.
Records from March 1977.
Revisited March 2007.