Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – A Fifth of Beethoven (Private Stock)
Parliament – Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk) (Casablanca*)
Brother To Brother – Chance With You (Turbo*)
Champs Boys – Tubular Bells (Phillips)
Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited – Do It Nice And Easy (Pye)
Moments – Nine Times (All Platinum)
Vicki – Sue Robinson Turn The Beat Around (RCA)
Mistura Feat Lloyd Michels – The Flasher (Route)
Fatback Band – Party Time (Polydor)
Donna Summer – Could It Be Magic (GTO)
Rueben Wilson – Got To Get Your Own (Chess)
Mud – Shake It Down (Private Stock)
Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band – California Strut (Private Stock)
El Coco – Mondo Disco (Pye)
Marvin Gaye – I Want You (Tamla Motown)
Gladys Knight & The Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia (Buddah)
* denotes US Import
Other tracks considered: Al Green – Let it Shine (Hi*) / Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – Tell The World How I Feel About Cha Baby (Philadelphia International) / Stylistics – Can’t Help Falling In Love (avco)
Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band’s ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ was a huge US hit, going all the way to number 1 on the chart. Over here it never reached those dizzy heights, peaking at number 28, but was a big club track (as, to a lesser degree, was the flip side, ‘California Strut’, also included later in the programme). ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’, which, as the title suggests, is a discofied version of Beethoven’s famous ‘Fifth Symphony’, would enjoy a renaissance a few years later, when it was featured on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’. The success of this single forced another Big Apple Band, a ‘power-fusion’ trio inspired by Roxy Music, to change their name, and their sound. They would metamorphosize into one of the most influential of all Disco acts, naming themselves Chic, the trio being Nile Rogers (guitar), Bernard Edwards (bass) and Tony Thompson (drums).
Two Funk imports follow, Parliament’s ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)’, their US follow-up to ‘P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)’, and ‘Chance With You’ by Brother To Brother. ‘Tear The Roof Off The Sucker’ would go on to become one of the biggest Funk tracks of all on Merseyside, guaranteed to pack the dancefloor, despite never making even the lower regions of the chart when it was eventually released as a single here in June, back-to-back with ‘P Funk’. Another big Liverpool track was ‘Chance With You’, which was never issued in this country. Brother To Brother had previously enjoyed club success with their cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s classic ‘The Bottle’.
Hailing from France, the Champs Boys, in a similar way to Walter Murphy’s ‘a Fifth Of Beethoven’ had successfully adapted a classic piece for the dancefloor, just missing out on the UK Top 40 by one place with ‘Tubular Bells’. However, whilst Beethoven Fifth dated back to the early nineteenth century, Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ album was a contemporary classic, having only been issued three years previously as the inaugural release on Richard Branson’s Virgin record label. It was a phenomenal debut success, spending an incredible 247 weeks on the chart (it has subsequently returned to the chart on various occasions down the years). Further to this, the intro section would be included, to great effect, as part of the soundtrack to one of the most memorable (not to mention chilling) films of the era, ‘The Exorcist’, winning it a Grammy in 1975, for Best Instrumental Composition and resulting in a ‘Theme From Tubular Bells’ single release, which many people referred to as the ‘Theme From The Exorcist’. Oldfield, who was only 19 when it was recorded, had remarkably played pretty much everything on the album himself. It went on to sell over 5 million copies and Branson (nowadays Sir Richard), a ‘hippy entrepreneur’, who’d founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer in 1970, would never look back!
Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited followed ‘Let’s Do The Latin Hustle’, with the more downbeat ‘Do It Nice And Easy’, but failed to repeat their chart success this time around. Drennon had previously worked with artists including Bo Diddley (for whom he was musical director in the 60’s), Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretta and Ike & Tina Turner.
Having scored two Top 10 hits in 1975, firstly with ‘Girls’ (Moments & Whatnauts)’ and then on their own via ‘Dolly My Love’, before adding a third, this time minor, hit, ‘Look At Me (I’m In Love)’, The Moments returned with an uptempo Northern flavoured release, ‘Nine Times’, which, although picking up club plays, failed to make any impression on the chart.
Surprisingly, Vicki Sue Robinson’s ‘Turn The Beat Around’, which would become an enduring Disco favourite throughout the coming years, also failed to make the UK chart. In total contrast, it was a big success in the US, topping the Billboard Disco chart and reaching the Top 10 of the pop chart, selling a million copies in the process. Interestingly, the lyrics refer to ‘scratching’ (in the days before the term was associated with DJ’s) as a guitar effect. Many would later come to know ‘Turn The Beat Around’ via Gloria Esterfan’s 1994 cover, which reached number 21 here and took the track back to the summit of the US dance chart. Robinson’s career had started on the stage, where she appeared in the original Broadway productions of both ‘Hair’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. She sadly died of cancer in 2000, aged only 45.
Mistura’s ‘The Flasher’, featuring the trumpet of Lloyd Michel, was a Northern Soul favourite that went on to reach number 23 on the chart. Leased to Route Records by Northern DJ, Kev Roberts, who’d licensed it for the UK after he’d been sent a copy via a friend who was a member of the New York Disco Pool. Robert’s originally regarded it as little more than a ‘throwaway instrumental’, but was amazed when it was first played, to a big response, by Ian Levine at the Blackpool Mecca. It would later appear on the Goldmine compilation, ‘The Wigan Casino Story’.
The Fatback Band were back with ‘Party Time’, but like the Champs Boys, it would stall at number 41, bringing to a halt the upward trend of their previous three singles, ‘Yum Yum (Gimme Some)’ – number 40, ‘(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop’ – number 18, and ‘(Do The) Spanish Hustle’ – number 10. Organist, Rueben Wilson, was a session musician with the Fatback Band during the 70’s (although I can’t confirm if he played on ‘Party Time’ or any of their other tracks pre-77). He recorded for Blue Note as early as 1968, but his best remembered track, ‘Got To Get Your Own’, was issued on the Cadet label in 1974, although it made little impact at the time. British DJ’s began to pick up on it, and it took off in the specialist Funk and Soul clubs, resulting in its release as a UK single on Chess in 1976. It would later re-ignite on London’s Rare Groove scene in the 80’s and is nowadays regarded as a dance classic here.
Having announced her arrival in style, with her seductive breakthrough single, ‘Love To Love You Baby’, Donna Summer returned to the chart with a cover of Barry Manilow’s ‘Could It Be Magic’, inspired by another classical piece, Chopin’s ‘Prelude In C Minor’. Its peak position was a big disappointment however, only reaching number 40. The song would fare much better 16 years later, in 1992, when Take That took it to number 2 with their cover version, co-produced by the aforementioned Ian Levine.
Hot on the heels of the Glitter Band’s ‘Makes You Blind’, another British pop group released a Disco track, but this time as the A side. Mud, were a highly successful singles act who’d enjoyed a run of thirteen British hits between 1973-1976, including three number 1’s. ‘Shake It Down’ came as something of a departure from the Rock & Roll pop they were known for, having a definite vibe of KC & The Sunshine Band. It would provide them with their penultimate hit, reaching number 12.
The Los Angeles based songwriting and production team Laurin Rinder & W. Michael Lewis would forge a distinctive Disco sound during the mid-late 70’s, drawing from their background as Rock and Soul session musicians, whilst playing all the instruments themselves. El Coco (a drug reference) and La Pamplemouse being their initial projects, they’d later record a series of albums under their own names, Rinder & Lewis, including the grandiose Disco concept album, ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. The smooth grooving ‘Mondo Disco’ is one of their early tracks, under the El Coco moniker.
Taking the tempo down is Marvin Gaye with his masterpiece of longing, ‘I Want You’, written by Leon Ware and Diana Ross’s brother, Arthur ‘T-Boy’ Ross. Almost criminally, this never made it onto the UK chart, although the album of the same name reached number 22. However, its omission was not surprising when you consider that ‘What’s Going On’, arguably the greatest album ever recorded, didn’t make its UK chart debut until 1999, 18 years after its release (the single ‘What’s Going On’ would also fail to chart). This is made all the more puzzling by the fact that Marvin Gaye had racked up an impressive number of hits in the UK, his first entries coming as early as 1964.
Finally it’s Gladys Knight & The Pips with the end of night favourite, ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’, which reached number 10 here, following its re-release in ‘76. This came on the back of a couple of Top 10 hits in 1975, ‘The Way We Were – Try To Remember’ and ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me’. Originally issued in 1973, ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ topped the charts stateside, and picked up the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Group, Duo or Chorus. Once, like Marvin Gaye, part of the Motown family (both had hits with very different versions of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’), the group would actually go onto bigger things when they left to join Buddah Records, where, unlike at Motown, they were regarded as a priority act. Written by Jim Weatherly, who’d originally recorded the song as ‘Midnight Plane To Houston’, the lyrics would be changed for a cover by Cissy Houston (Whitney Houston’s mother), and it was via this version that Knight, who was from Atlanta, Georgia, heard the song. The original version was actually was inspired by a conversation Weatherly had with the actress Farrah Fawcett (one of the original ‘Charlie’s Angels’ a few years on, in 1976) who was going to visit her family in Houston. Weatherly knew Fawcett via her future husband, Lee Majors, who found fame as the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, a role he started playing in 1973.
The month started disastrously for me. I had a great night at the Chelsea, only to be informed that I’d been sacked! The whole situation with my age, and the fact that I was still sneaking drinks, had caught up with me. The following week I went to a New Brighton nightspot called The Grand, a former hotel situated next door to the Penny Farthing, which had aspirations of turning itself into a Chelsea Reach style disco, and was asked if I’d do the Saturdays there, starting later in the month. Losing the Chelsea was a real shock to the system, so much so that I actually went to the Job Centre to see what my options might be when I left school.
Thankfully things were going well at the Penny, and I was given a major boost when Bob Killbourne, who wrote the Disco Soul column in Blues & Soul, focusing on the club scene in the UK, included my top 10 on May 25th, alongside those of other DJ’s nationwide (Bob would eventually become editor of B&S, a position he still holds to this day). When I saw it in the magazine I really felt as if I’d arrived, although this was tinged by the slight embarrassment of my clubs being listed as the Chelsea Reach and the Penny Farthing, when, in reality, I was no longer at the Chelsea. I’d sent the top 10 to the magazine almost two months earlier, and when it hadn’t appeared by the end of April I’d figured that they weren’t going to use it, so it came as a pleasant surprise to finally see it in print. It also made me realise that, because of the sizeable gap between when it was sent and when it was published, you needed to include your very latest records, so you wouldn’t appear to be too far behind the times when it finally made it into the magazine (some of the bigger name DJ’s listing mainly imports). My inaugural selection was as follows:
Andrea True Connection – More More More
Brass Construction – Movin’ / Changin’
Ohio Players – Fopp
O’Jays Livin’ – For The Weekend
Parliament – P Funk
Silver Convention – Get Up And Boogie
Johnny Taylor – Disco Lady
Glitter Band – Makes You Blind
Isaac Hayes Movement – Disco Connection
Armada Orchestra – Band Of Gold
In the previous week’s Blues & Soul, Frank Elson’s column carried a piece about his first visit to Les Spaine’s club, The Timepiece, titled ‘Liverpool Funk’. Bob Killbourne also went along – they were both in Liverpool for the birthday celebrations of one of the most high profile clubs in the city back then, Bailey’s, which was part of a national chain. It was the first club I’d ever been to in Liverpool, when I went to see the UK Soul singer, Al Matthews, perform there in 1975, around the time of his Top 20 hit, ‘Fool’ (although I’d been to a daytime event hosted by DJ’s from the local ILR station, Radio City, prior to this). I don’t think Frank and Bob had planned to go to The Timepiece that night, but Terry Lennaine and another DJ, Dave Porter (more about Dave in a few months time), took them across town to experience the black scene. In the resulting piece, Les Spaine described the clubs music policy as ‘Funk, Funk and more Funk’ whilst Frank noted that Les was ‘heavily into the latest imports’ and highlighted the fact that the club attracted a great many American servicemen from bases around the North (and often from much further afield). Opening 4 nights per week, The Timepiece went on until 3.30am, at a time when most Merseyside clubs closed at 2.00am, and on the last Saturday of the month they held their famous All-Nighters (which Frank promised a return visit for). He also mentioned bumping into Chris Amoo of the Liverpool group The Real Thing at The Timepiece, who told him that their next single was ‘a goodie’. The Real Thing, at this point, were struggling to make their mark, having first come to public attention via the TV talent show ‘Opportunity Knocks’, but this coming single would catapult them all the way to the top of the UK chart (more next month).
Records from May 1976.
Revisited May 2006.