Stevie Wonder – I Wish (Motown)
KC & The Sunshine Band – Keep It comin’ Love (Jayboy)
Bar-Kays – Shake Your Rump To The Funk (*Mercury)
Cameo – Rigor Mortis (*Chocolate City)
Electric Light Orchestra – Livin’ Thing (United Artists)
Ernie Bush – Breakaway (Contempo)
Barbara Pennington – Twenty-Four Hours A Day (United Artists)
D.C LaRue – Cathedrals (PYE)
Stevie Wonder – Isn’t She Lovely (Motown)
Candi Staton – Run To Me (Warner Brothers)
B.T Express – Energy To Burn (EMI)
Ultrafunk – Gotham City Boogie (Contempo)
The Jacksons – Enjoy Yourself (Epic)
Heatwave – Super Soul Sister (GTO)
Norman Connors – You Are My Starship (Buddah)
Stevie Wonder – As (Motown)
* denotes import
Other tracks considered: Al Green – Keep Me Cryin’ (London) / Barry White – Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long (20th Century) / Carol Douglas – Midnight Love Affair (Midland International) / Chairman Of The Board – You’ve Got That Added Power In Your Love (Invicta) / Chi-Lites – Happy Being Lonely (Mercury) / Donna Summer – Winter Melody (Gto) / Dooley Silverspoon – What In The World (Seville) / Four Tops – Catfish (ABC) / Georgio – Nights In White Satin (GTO) / J.A.L.N Band – Life Is A Fight (Magnet) / Gladys Knight & The Pips – So Sad The Song (Buddah) / Ruth Brown – Sugar Babe (President) / Silver Convention – Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout Love (Magnet) / The Impressions – You’ve Been Cheatin’ (Abc) / The Sylvers – Hot Line (Capitol) / Walter Murphy – Flight 76 (Private Stock)
The eagerly anticipated Stevie Wonder double album, ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, didn’t fail to deliver. There’d been a 2 year gap since his last LP, ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ (one of a trilogy of classic Stevie albums to grace the British chart between ‘72-’74, along with ‘Talking Book’ and ‘Innervisions’), so, being widely acknowledged as the greatest black artist of the era, much was expected of his new material. ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ is now generally considered to be his crowning achievement (the album would just miss out on the UK number 1 spot) and, although he continued to enjoy commercial success, it never quite got this good again on a creative level. It was a must have for DJ’s, even the ones who usually never played anything that wasn’t on single and in the top 30 of the chart (mainly due to the inclusion of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ a massively popular tune with the mainstream audience, which was never issued as a single). There were a handful of tracks that would pick up strong club support (‘Isn’t She Lovely’, ‘I Wish’, ‘As’, ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘Another Star’), a trio of which are included here (the three that took off quickest).
‘I Wish’, a funky ode to childhood days, was the first single pulled from ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, released in December and going on to reach number 5 in the UK (it was a US chart topper). At this point Wonder, despite having a whole array of UK hits throughout the previous decade, had never had a number 1 in this country (this would eventually come via 2 of his insipid early 80’s offerings, firstly ‘Ebony And Ivory’, a duo with Paul McCartney, before scoring his only solo number 1, ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ in 1984). However, I’m sure that ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, written to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha, would have topped the chart had it been chosen as a single, for this, as I previously mentioned, was a huge mainstream favourite. Beating Motown to the punch, in January 1977 Pye Records would rush release a vastly inferior version, produced by British Pop impresario, Tony Hatch, by an unknown singer called David Parton, who would take the track to number 4, before vanishing back into obscurity. On the original version, Aisha is heard crying at the beginning of the track, which is also memorable for Wonder’s mammoth harmonica solo. The third inclusion, ‘As’, an epic track that begins in a laid back manner before reaching almost biblical fervour as it builds to its climax, was bigger with the more specialist DJ’s (along with ‘Another Star’, which will feature on Time Capsule in the coming months, as will ‘Sir Duke’).
KC & The Sunshine Band added to their list of hits with ‘Keep It Coming Love’, a popular club tune, albeit not as big as some of their previous releases, petering out at number 31.
The Bar-Kays first came to UK attention via the dance sensation ‘Soul Finger’ released at the height of the summer of love in 1967, reaching number 33 on the chart. Groomed by Stax / Volt, the 6 piece Memphis group, still all teenagers, were so highly regarded by the legendary ‘King of Soul’, Otis Redding, that he asked them to back him on tour (his usual backing band being no less than the mighty Booker T & The MG’s). This wonderful opportunity would turn into tragedy when, on December 10th 1967, a plane carrying Redding and 5 of the band crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. The only person onboard to survive was Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley (the 6th member, bassist James Alexander, hadn’t flown with the rest of the band). Alexander and Cauley would rebuild the band, who’d go on to work with numerous artists, including Isaac Hayes (Cauley would become a permanent member of Hayes’s band, leaving Alexander as the only original member). Following Stax / Volt’s bankruptcy, the Bar-Kays signed to Mercury in 1976, releasing their first album for the company, ‘Too Hot To Stop’, the same year. This marked the beginning of the most commercially productive phase of their career, the band’s Funk based approach providing a winning formula (and also tour support with master funksters Parliament / Funkadelic). ‘Shake Your Rump To The Funk’ would become their 2nd UK hit, falling just one place short of the top 40 following its release in January 1977. However, this would be their only British single success until 1985, when ‘Sex-O-Matic’ completed a trio of chart entries, all released in separate decades.
Influenced by P Funk and signed to Casablanca subsidiary label Chocolate City (named after Parliament’s 1975 album, ‘Chocolate City’ – a term first used to describe Washington DC, where the black community was in the majority) Cameo, led by Larry Blackmon, evolved from a 13 piece band called the New York City Players. Their first album, ‘Cardiac Arrest’ well and truly announced their presence to Funk fans when it was issued in 1977, but, in the meantime, their debut 45, ‘Rigor Mortis’, would whet the appetite in fine style. This was definitely one of the biggest imports of the era on Merseyside – a guaranteed floorfiller for half a year, before its eventual UK release as a double a-side with follow-up single, ‘Post Mortem’ (Cameo certainly had a thing about medical terms). However, their ongoing success in the clubs during the years ahead wouldn’t translate to the UK chart until 1984 and a later phase of their career, with tracks including ‘She’s Strange’, ‘Single Life’ and their biggest hit, ‘Word Up’, which reached number 3 in 1986 (the codpiece adorned Blackmon now enjoying superstar status).
Not really a dance track as such, but nevertheless very popular in the mainstream clubs, ‘Livin’ Thing’ by the Electric Light Orchestra was the bands biggest hit to date, reaching number 4 on the chart (‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ would go one better in 1979, before ‘Xanadu’, with Olivia Newton-John, gave the band their one and only number 1 single in Britain the following year). Formed in 1970 by Roy Wood, Jeff Lynn and Bev Bevan (all previously in the Birmingham band, The Move, one of the leading British Pop bands of the late 60’s, whose hits included the chart topping ‘Blackberry Way’, and ‘Flowers In The Rain’, the first track played on BBC Radio 1, following its launch in 1967), ELO announced their intention to ‘pick up where ‘I Am The Walrus’ left off’, citing The Beatles and their fusion of rock and classical music as their inspiration. They made their breakthrough with the top 10 hits ‘10538 Overture’ and a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ (previously covered, of course, by The Beatles), before tensions surfaced between Wood and Lynn, resulting in Wood’s departure to set up another new band, Wizzard. While Wizzard racked up the UK hits, including a couple of number 1’s with ‘See My Baby Jive’ and ‘Angel Fingers’, ELO, although seemingly struggling to continue their early momentum in this country, were concentrating much of their attention on the US, appearing on the stadium / arena circuit and hitting the top 10 there for the first time in 1975 with the single, ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’. Then, in 1976, things took off in a big way back home via the release of their album ‘A New World Record’, which would spend 100 weeks on the UK album chart. Apart from ‘Livin’ Thing’, ‘A New world Record’ would include 2 further top 10 singles, ‘Rockaria!’ and ‘Telephone Line’. ELO do have Disco connections – their 1979 album ‘Discovery’ (or ‘Disco Very’ as some refer to it) very much embraced dance music, with tracks like ‘Last Train To London’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, whilst more recently, ‘Livin’ Thing’ was brought to the attention of a new generation via the 1997 movie ‘Boogie Nights’, which was set in the Disco era.
As mentioned in the August text, the first UK released 12″ singles were issued in October ‘76 on Contempo, the label affiliated to Blues & Soul magazine. These were ‘Sting Your Jaws’ by Ultrafunk coupled with an instrumental cover of the O’Jays classic, ‘For The Love Of Money’, by fellow Brits, the Armada Orchestra, on one 12″, simultaneously released with another 12″ featuring ‘Chinese Kung Fu’ by Banzai and ‘Breakaway’ by Ernie Bush, both of which had been remixed by Tom Moulton. All of these tracks had previously been issued on 7″, but it wasn’t until its 12″ release that I picked up on ‘Breakaway’, a track that came out via Scepter in the US. Bush, as far as I can ascertain was UK based. Surprisingly, this seems to be his one and only record.
‘Twenty-Four Hours A Day’ by Chicago born singer Barbara Pennington, gave Ian Levine the US club hit he’d been hoping for. This was a massive tune Stateside in 1977, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Disco chart. Recorded in Chicago, Levine co-produced with Danny Ray Leake, a native of the Windy City. Back in the UK where it was first issued, the track picked up some club support, though nothing to the level of what would happen across the Atlantic. Pennington reached the US Disco top 20 once again, later in ‘77, with ‘You are The Music Within Me’, and eventually had 2 minor British hits with Levine, recording for Record Shack in the mid-80’s.
D.C LaRue’s ‘Cathedrals’ is an acknowledged classic of the Disco era. Released on Pyramid in the US, like many dance records of the time it broke via the gay scene in New York and would climb to number 6 on the Billboard Disco chart. Connecticut born LaRue (real name David Charles L’Heureux) had started out in the music business as a graphic designer, the capacity in which he first met the people at Pyramid. ‘Cathedrals’, underpinned by a wonderful groove, is a unique sounding record, the lyrics of which I always found somewhat haunting, especially the core question ‘where are they now?’ and the line that gives the track its title ‘they could fill cathedrals’ – there was certainly something about ‘Cathedrals’ that was slightly disquieting. Years later, following the devastation of the gay community in New York as a result of the AIDS virus, ‘Cathedrals’, listened to in hindsight, seemed to take on something of a prophetic tone – it was almost as though the words could have been written post, rather than pre-AIDS. In an interview in Blues & Soul following the tracks UK release (it had topped the B&S singles chart – a rare occurrence for a white artist, particularly one releasing his first UK single), LaRue explained the meaning of the lyrics: “It’s a story about urban sexuality in America. It deals with the actual consciousness of promiscuity that exists in discos around America today – you know, the situation where a guy picks up a girl or another guy at a disco and they go home and make love even before they know each other’s names. He continued: “It’s such an empty, fruitless way of living to my mind and that’s basically what Cathedrals deals with – the emptiness and waste of humanity that this situation creates’. These final words would prove forebodingly true in a way he could never have imagined when he said them.
When Warner Brothers released ‘Destiny’ as the follow-up to Candi Staton’s major hit, ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, many people thought they’d made the wrong choice, suggesting that ‘Run To Me’ would have done far better that the number 41 position that ‘Destiny’ had managed. However, when it was finally issued on single, ‘Run to Me’ failed to chart at all, despite, once again, receiving plenty of club support.
Formed in 1972 as the King Davis House Rockers, but changing their name to Brooklyn Trucking Express the following year (before abbreviating to B.T), B.T Express, produced by Jeff Lane (who’d later go on to produce Brass Construction), would enjoy a swift rise to prominence following the release of their debut single ‘Do It (‘Til Your Satisfied)’ in 1974. The Remix pioneer Tom Moulton’s first studio project was ‘Do It (‘Til Your Satisfied)’, which he extended for the clubs, almost doubling the length of the track. ‘Do It (‘Til Your Satisfied)’ and the follow-up, ‘Express’ became huge hits US hits, reaching number 2 and number 4 respectively on the Billboard chart, although only ‘Express’ scored in the UK, peaking at number 34 (although both tracks were considered Funk classics over here when I started out in the clubs). Although the band would continue to record until the early 80’s (their best known tracks being ‘Peace Pipe’ in 1975 and ‘Does It Feel Good’ and ‘Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)’ in 1980), they’d never manage to emulate their early success. ‘Energy To Burn’ was lifted from their more Disco orientated album of the same name, but failed to make any impact outside of the clubs. B.T Express keyboard player, Michael Jones, would enjoy further success as Kashif (a name he took having converted to Islam), via his own solo recordings, plus production work for artists including Melba Moore, Evelyn King, Howard Johnson, George Benson, Kenny G and, most famously, Whitney Houston.
Ultrafunk were a UK studio group produced ‘within the Contempo family’. Their self-titled 1975 album, now much sought after by collectors, had been warmly received by the club community. Prime cuts included the previously mentioned ‘Sting Your Jaws’, plus ‘Kung Fu Man’ and ‘Sweet FA’, all of which were issued as singles, as well as cover versions of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’ (their 1974 debut single) and 2 Bill Withers songs, ‘Who Is He And What Is He To You?’ (better known to the Disco community via the Creative Source version) along with ‘Use Me’. ‘Gotham City Boogie’ was a Disco aimed interpretation of the Batman theme, which TK would later pick up for US release.
In 1970 the Jackson 5 exploded onto the music scene with a remarkable run off of US number 1 singles for Motown – ‘I Want You Back’, ‘ABC’, ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ (all reached the UK top 10 also). This was followed by the launch of their lead singer, the 13 year old wonderkid, Michael, as a solo artist (in addition to his role as one of the 5), and a further batch of hits. However, by the end of 1973 the big hits had dried up and the only other US top 10 single for the brothers during their time at Motown would be ‘Dancing Machine’ in 1974, a track that would fail to chart at all in the UK (I’d name my mobile disco after this track). Feeling that they were now being held back by Motown, the band left the company, signing for Epic and embracing the Philly Sound that had been so influential during recent years. Teaming up with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff to record their new material as The Jacksons, a new dawn was anticipated, but ‘Enjoy Yourself’ proved to be an inauspicious start. It wouldn’t enter the UK chart until April 1977 and, even then, didn’t manage to break into the top 40, peaking at 42. It didn’t do too much better on the Billboard Disco chart, where the single would have been expected to be highly placed – instead it ran out of steam at number 33. There must have been major concerns following the flawed launch of this new phase of their career, but history now tells us that it would all come together in a massive way, especially for Michael, who, as we all know, would go on to enjoy phenomenal success, before his life became defined not by his music, but a series of scandals and a whole heap of weirdness.
British-based Funk act Heatwave were a 6 piece band with a truly international line-up – Johnny and Keith Wilder from Dayton, Ohio, Eric Johns from LA, Ernest ‘Bilbo’ Berger from Czechoslovakia, Mario Mantese from Madrid, Spain, plus songwriter / keyboardist Rod Temperton from Cleethorpes, England. Formed in Germany, where Johnnie was in the US Army until 1971 and originally called The Cashmeers, the band originally toured the UK as Johnny Wilder’s Chicago Heatwave. Rod Temperton joined after seeing an advert in Melody Maker and, having built a solid fan base in the UK via their live shows, they signed to GTO Records in 1976 releasing their debut single ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’, followed by the album, ‘Too Hot To Handle’ (produced by Barry Blue, who’d had British top 10 hits as a solo artist in 1973 with the Pop singles, ‘Dancin’ (On A Saturday Night)’ and ‘Do You Wanna Dance’). Their second single ‘Super Soul Sister’, would further enhance their reputation as an exciting new Funk act, but, like the first one, fail to chart. However a massive hit was just around the corner (more next month), which would well and truly launch the band on an international level. Rod Temperton would, of course, become a prolific songwriter, going on to write 3 songs, ‘Rock With You’, ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Burn This Disco Out’ for Jackson’s 1979 album ‘Off The Wall’, plus 3 more, including the title track, for Jackson’s next LP, ‘Thriller, which became the biggest-selling album of all time (other writing credits include songs for Rufus, Brothers Johnson, Quincy Jones, Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, Bob James and George Benson). Johnnie Wilder who’d been paralyzed from the neck down following a motor accident in 1979, died earlier this year, aged just 56.
The penultimate track is ‘You Are My Starship’, a sophisticated slowie courtesy of Philadelphia Jazz drummer / producer, Norman Connors, which would reach the top 5 of the US R&B chart. This isn’t Connors’ voice though, nor did he write the song – credit for this goes to Mississippi bassist / vocalist, Michael Henderson, who’d secure his own deal with Buddah on the back of his work with Connors.
Away from my hectic club schedule, on one of my few nights off during November I did a 12 hour show on Radio Catherine for charity, starting at 9pm in the evening and concluding at 9am the following morning. A few days later I received a reply from the programme controller at BBC Radio Merseyside about the demo tape I’d sent them. It said; “Your presentation style is not without possibilities and I will certainly bear you in mind should an opening occurs. This was both encouraging on one hand, whist disappointing on the other.
Having slept through the day following my radio marathon, I headed over to Liverpool at night for a ‘Disco Party’ at the Flintlock Club. This, to the best of my memory, is where I met James Hamilton, a giant (both physically and in terms of his enormous contribution) of British club culture who, for many years, wrote a weekly Disco column for Record Mirror in London, which was absolutely essential reading for DJ’s in this country. Sadly, James died of cancer in 1996.
Frank Elson ran his review of The Timepiece All-Nighter in Blues & Soul, commenting that “I once described Les as a legend in his own time, a fact which he finds rather amusing, but it is a fact that Funk fans throughout the country know of Les and when people travel from London to a club in Liverpool you know there has to be something in it. He also mentioned that Nick Sands, a promotions man from United Artists, was there with an acetate of the forthcoming Brass Construction LP (a hugely anticipated release following their staggering debut album), and that Les was the first DJ in Europe to feature it. There was also mention of another black DJ from the North who has never got the props he deserves; “The only jock I’ve ever met who sustained the same kind of aura as Les was Persian in Manchester and amongst Funk fans that guy is almost a God. Later that month Frank’s column included a paragraph mentioning that the Timepiece was due to be featured in a ‘World About Us’ BBC documentary. Les remembers this being filmed in the club, but can’t recall seeing it on the TV (with no videos in those days it was either catch it when it was transmitted, or not at all). I’d obviously love to see this footage – hopefully it’s survived and is stored somewhere within the BBC vaults.
This was also the month that I got to meet a young Lenny Henry, a former winner of the TV talent show New Faces, who was then best known for his role as Sonny in the TV programme ‘The Fosters’, the first British sitcom to feature an all black cast. Henry was appearing for a week in cabaret at The Deerstalker, alongside Faith Brown and the Satin Dolls, performing his stand-up act. After he’d finished his spot he came downstairs to the disco room where I was working. As was often the case during midweek at The Deerstalker, it was really quiet, with only a handful of people in the room. Lenny came up to me to ask if I had anything by Parliament. He was pretty much taken aback when I produced my import copy of ‘The Clones Of Dr Funkenstein’, an album he hadn’t yet heard, and, given that there was hardly anyone in, I played it from start to finish, while we had a few drinks and chatted about music. I met him again a few years later when he came to the Golden Guinea, after appearing live at another Merseyside club, to judge a midweek beauty contest (I was the compere). By this time he’d become a very well known TV figure, due to the massive success of the Saturday morning show ‘Tizwas’, but he remained down to earth and recognised me straight away, remembering the night we listened to Parliament together.
Interestingly, in January 1987 Henry appeared in a TV movie for the BBC called ‘Coast To Coast’. He played a Soul loving mobile DJ from Liverpool called Ritchie Lee who hooks up with an AWOL US serviceman who shares his passion for black music. One of the final scenes is when they play at a US base in Britain, whilst early in the film there’s a flashback sequence showing Ritchie Lee as a youngster outside the main Liverpool R&B club of the 60’s, The Sink (nowadays The Magnet). Henry’s character was loosely based on none other than Les Spaine, who, apart from attracting numerous US servicemen to The Timepiece, would also travel to DJ at various American air bases throughout the UK during the 70’s. The film, with also featured Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Vaughan, was only shown once on TV and, due to copyright problems, has never appeared on either DVD or video.
Records from November 1976.
Revisited November 2006.