Rose Royce – Car Wash (MCA)
Stevie Wonder – Another Star (Motown)
Salsoul Orchestra – Nice ‘n’ Naasty (Salsoul)
Bumble Bee Orchestra – Love Bug (Sky)
Vicki Sue Robinson – Daylight (RCA)
Mistacharge – Show Me What You’re Made Of (Target)
Boney M – Daddy Cool (Atlantic)
Jesse Green – Flip (EMI)
Brass Construction – Ha Cha Cha (Funktion) (United Artists)
Ruby Andrews – I Got A Bone To Pick With You (Anchor)
Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr – You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show) (ABC)
Barry Biggs – Sideshow (Dynamic)
Bootsy’s Rubber Band – I’d Rather Be With You (*Warner Brothers)
Commodores – Just To Be Close To You (Motown)
George Benson – This Masquerade (Warner Brothers)
L.T.D – Love Ballad (A&M)
* denotes import
Other tracks considered: The Drifters – You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book (Bell) / Georgio – I Wanna Funk With You Tonight (GTO) / The Stylistics – You’ll Never Get To Heaven (H&L) / Tina Charles – Dr Love (CBS)
The final Time Capsule of the year kicks off with one of the most recognisable club tracks of the entire era – the evergreen ‘Car Wash’ by Rose Royce. A trademark Norman Whitfield production, beginning with the type of distinctive handclap hook that had first enhanced some of his groundbreaking work with The Temptations, ‘Car Wash’ saw him return to the top of the US chart, whilst the soundtrack album of the same name would earn him a Grammy in the Composing and Arranging category for Best Original Score. Unlike the band’s first single of a few months earlier, ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’, ‘Car Wash’ saw vocalist, Gwen Dickey, take the lead and, although not the runaway success it was in the US, the track would also be a big hit here, reaching number 7, whilst revitalising interest in ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’, which, although issued first, would follow ‘Car Wash into the chart a month on from it’s Christmas Day entry, peaking at number 44. ‘Car Wash’ had been held back to coincide with the UK promotion of the film and, along with other DJ’s and media people from the region, I was invited to a pre-release daytime screening in Liverpool. The movie featured one of my future heroes, the late great Richard Pryor, but it wasn’t until 1978 that I was awakened to his true genius, not as an actor, but for his seminal stand-up recordings, which I was introduced to in Norway when I spent some time hanging out with a trio of seasoned International DJ’s from the UK, who I met in a town called Skien (Nicky Flavell, Paul Rae and Primus). Like Whitfield, Pryor would also pick up a Grammy for his 1976 album, ‘Bicentennial Nigger’ (which, along with ‘That Nigger’s Crazy’, I’d be turned onto in Skien).
It would be a good year at the Grammy’s for black artists, with Stevie Wonder picking up no less than 4 awards (Best Album – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance – ‘I Wish’, Best Producer Of The Year). Included here is ‘Another Star’, yet another club favourite from this much loved LP, which would eventually be issued as a UK single in the summer of ‘77, peaking at number 29 on the chart. ‘Another Star’ was the lead track of the 4 listed in the Billboard Disco Chart, just missing out on the top spot (the other 3 being ‘I Wish’, ‘Sir Duke’ and ‘Isn’t She Lovely’).
Due to a disagreement over business matters with Gamble & Huff, a number of Philadelphia International’s hugely influential in-house musicians defected from the seminal Soul / Disco orchestra, MFSB, to continue their innovative dance odyssey as The Salsoul Orchestra, led by ace arranger / producer, vibesman Vincent Montana Jr, and including the awesome Philly Sound rhythm section, Earl Young (drums), Ronnie Baker (bass), and Norman Harris (rhythm guitar). Having signed a licensing agreement with the New York label, RCA would become the UK home for Salsoul Records (founded in 1974 by the three Cayre Brothers – Joe, Ken and Stanley). Salsoul (the name blending Salsa and Soul), despite only achieving limited commercial success, released a wealth of material before its demise in 1984, having a major influence on the course of dance music. ‘Nice ‘N’ Naasty’ was the title track from the orchestra’s second album – instantly recognizable for it’s ‘cheeky’ cover shot of ex-Playboy Playmate, Ellen Michaels, dressed only in a ‘Dance Your Ass Of To Salsoul’ t-shirt – one of the iconic images of the Disco era, which would gain much mileage in the overall promotion of the label. Listed, along with ‘Salsoul 3001’ and ‘Don’t Beat Around The Bush’ as the key album tracks, ‘Nice ‘N’ Naasty’ would climb to number 3 on the US Disco chart. A further Salsoul Orchestra single from Dec ‘76, ‘Little Drummer Boy’, released along with the album ‘Christmas Jollies’, featuring Disco versions of festive favourites, probably hindered, rather than helped, the progress of ‘Nice ‘N’ Naasty’, with the single failing to register on the UK chart (in fact the only Salsoul Orchestra track to make the British chart would be ‘Dance A Little Bit Closer’, fronted by Charo, in 1978).
‘Love Bug’ by the Bumble Bee Orchestra, released in the US on the Red Greg label, was another Greg Carmichael production, written and arranged by Patrick Adams that was issued here on the new Sky label. Reached number 18 on the US Disco chart.
‘Daylight’, the follow-up to Vicki Sue Robinson’s Disco monster, ‘Turn The Beat Around’, wasn’t, unsurprisingly, to the same high standard as its predecessor (despite being co-written by Bobby Womack). However, along with ‘Should I Stay’, ‘How About Me’ and ‘I Won’t Let You Go’, was listed as the choice tracks from the album ‘Vicki Sue Robinson’, which peaked at number 9 on the US Disco chart. Robinson’s only UK hit wouldn’t be until 2 decades later, in 1997, when ‘House Of Love’ went to number 48.
Mistacharge, to the best of my knowledge, were a British act. Blues & Soul described ‘Show Me What Your Made Of’ as ‘the left-field disco record of the moment’ weird but wonderful and it encompasses so many differing moods’. The single would gain club support, not only in the UK, but also the US, where it was listed at number 40 on the Disco chart in June ‘77 as an import. Mistacharge’s ‘Taste Of Love’ would also find favour with some DJ’s.
Having scored in Belgium and Holland earlier in ‘76 with ‘Baby Do You Wanna Bump’, the first Boney M single, German producer Frank Farian would unleash the project on an international audience, enjoying a run of success that stretched all the way into the early 80’s. ‘Daddy Cool’ would be the first of 9 consecutive British top 10 hits, peaking at number 6. Farian, who’d wanted to be a solo artist, but had failed to make a breakthrough, recruited a trio of West Indian born female vocalists Marcia Barrett, Liz Mitchell and Maizie Williams, alongside Bobby Farrell (a DJ in the Netherlands, also of West Indian descent) to create a distinctive sound with mass commercial appeal. It would later emerge that Farian himself was responsible for the male vocals on Boney M recordings (as he would also be, somewhat controversially, some years later with the group Milli Vanilli), with Farrell performing the songs live, whilst miming Farian’s parts for TV appearances. Despite their Eurodisco sound coming to be regarded as the height of cheese, ‘Daddy Cool’ was generally well received on its release, reaching the top 10 of the Blues & Soul singles chart, whilst peaking at number 11 on the US Disco chart. Farian currently has a stage musical running in London’s West End called ‘Daddy Cool’, featuring, of course, the music of Boney M.
Following on from his success with ‘Nice And Slow’, Jesse Green returned to the UK chart with ‘Flip’, peaking at number 26. The track would also reach number 17 on the Disco chart in America. This would be the second of 3 British hits for Green (‘Come With Me’ being his final chart entry in 1977).
Having made a massive impact with their outstanding debut album, Brass Construction were back with a new LP, ‘Brass Construction II’. The choice cut was ‘Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)’, a solid club track that reached number 37 on the UK chart, whilst registering at number 14 on the US Disco chart.
Ruby Andrews, an R&B singer from Hollandale, Mississippi, was known to Northern Soul fans, although she never made a mainstream impact. In the US, her 1977 single, ‘I Wanna Be Near You’, made it to number 40 on the Disco chart.
Husband and wife duo, Marilyn McCoo and Bill Davis Jr, were formerly members of The 5th Dimension, a popular easy listening combo who scored massive hits on both sides of the Atlantic with ‘Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In’ (from the musical ‘Hair’) and ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, as the 60’s ended and the 70’s began (the group had first made their name via ‘Up Up And Away’, a US top 10 hit in 1967). ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)’ was a US number 1 that would pick up a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus, but this would prove to be something of a one-off as they failed to maintain their commercial success. They would later record both separately and together, whilst following their Christian calling. More recently they published a book called ‘Up Up And Away’: How We Found Love, Faith And Lasting Marriage In The Entertainment World’.
Having made his UK breakthrough via ‘Work All Day’, Reggae singer, Barry Biggs, took his follow-up single, ‘Sideshow’, to number 3 on the chart. ‘Sideshow’ had been a million selling US hit for Philadelphia based vocal quintet, Blue Magic. In 1977 Biggs would try to repeat the formula, recording ‘Three Ring Circus’, another Blue Magic hit, but would only reach number 22 this time around (one of 4 further chart entries between ‘77-’81).
Having become a big fan of Parliament during 1976, I’d learned that the band’s bass player, Bootsy Collins, under the name of Bootsy’s Rubber Band, had his own single out in the US. This was ‘I’d Rather Be With You’ (from his debut album, ‘Stretchin’ Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band’), which I picked up as an import 7″ (the track was never released here, as far as I recall). It wasn’t until later that I realised that Bootsy was already a legendary figure, dating back to his key role in James Brown’s band between 1969-71, whilst still a teenager. He met P Funk mainman, George Clinton, in 1972, joining forces for what would prove to be an extremely intoxicating combination, which took Funk to a whole new level – especially the recordings of Parliament and Funkadelic. Echoes of ‘I’d Rather Be With You’ can be heard in the 2002 Sugarbabes hit ‘Freak Like Me’, a cover of Adina Howard’s 1995 single mashed-up with Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’. Bootsy’s would have to wait until 1978 for his only UK hit, ‘Bootzilla’, which reached number 43. Remarkably this would be one more than Parliament, who never made it onto the British chart at all (although Funkadelic would take ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ into the top 10 in ‘78, before returning 21 years later for 1 week with ‘Mothership Reconnection’). Bootsy Collins is now, of course, widely acknowledged as one of the all-time great bassists.
One of the biggest Soul/Funk bands of the late 70’s were The Commodores, who would run up hit after hit, consistently challenging Earth Wind & Fire’s position as the most popular black music group of the period. With Lionel Richie coming to the fore as balladeer extraordinaire (leading to a hugely successful solo career), it’s surprising that their breakthrough came via an instrumental dance cut, ‘Machine Gun’ in 1974. Following a couple of Funk geared releases, ‘I Feel Sanctified’ and ‘Slippery When Wet’ (their first R&B number 1 in the States), the band cracked the US top 10 with ‘Sweet Love’, a much more sedate single. Although it failed to show on the UK chart at this point, ‘Just To Be Close To You’ would be re-issued a couple of years on, reaching number 62, whilst in the US it would follow ‘Sweet Love’ into the top 10. The band had originally come together as freshmen at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, with their big break coming when they were chosen as warm-up band on the Jackson 5’s live tour in 1971, leading to their own recording contract with Motown. Throughout their career they would sell close on 40 million records.
Yet another Grammy winner, ‘This Masquerade’ by George Benson, would pick up the coveted Record Of The Year award. A major hit in the States, although it failed to show at all on the UK chart, despite its end of night popularity in the clubs. Written and originally recorded by Leon Russell in 1972, the song was brought to wider attention by The Carpenters, who covered it the following year. Benson’s version would be first record to occupy the top slot on the Pop, R&B and Jazz charts.
The closing track, not only for this month, but for the whole of 1976, is another song that would be covered by George Benson (reaching number 29 in the UK in 1979). The original, by LA band L.T.D (Love, Togetherness and Devotion), featured vocalist Jeffrey Osborne, who’d forge a successful solo career for himself in the 80’s. ‘Love Ballad’ was exactly what it said on the tin (although Benson’s version would be a more groove based dancefloor favourite with the Jazz Funk audience). L.T.D would only manage 1 minor hit in the UK with ‘Holding On (When Love Is Gone)’ – number 70 in 1978.
Away from the clubs, December ‘76 saw the Sex Pistols enter the chart for the first time with their debut single, ‘Anarchy In The UK’, announcing the arrival of Punk Rock as a new musical force. The fact that it only scraped into the top 40, at number 38, belies its overall impact, with most Rock and Pop commentators subsequently citing it as one of the most influential British singles of all-time. Punk would be seen as the antithesis of Disco, the two scenes, initially, having no common ground. Those into Punk were generally dismissive of Disco, and vice-versa (although to a far less scathing degree), with Punk rarely heard outside of specialist nights and venues (where the live aspect was regarded as the lifeblood of the scene).
A UK DJ enjoying chart success as the year ended was Chris Hill, best known then for his nights at Ilford’s Lacy Lady, who would arguably become the UK’s first ‘superstar DJ’ via his Canvey Island ‘Gold Mine’ residency and position as head honcho of the Soul Mafia, which would amass huge power South of Watford, right through until the early 80’s. However, unlike Ian Levine up North, this release wasn’t geared towards the club audience he played to, but a novelty single aimed squarely at the festive market. ‘Bionic Santa’ (the Bionic bit referring to the massively popular American TV show ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and its spin-off, ‘The Bionic Woman’) was Hill’s second Christmas hit – he’d also released ‘Renta Santa’ 12 months previous. Both records reached #10 on the UK chart.
These tracks were recorded in a style pioneered in the US by Dickie Goodman, who edited up snippets of other peoples records (interjecting his own commentary) to create a story. In this way, as far as I’m aware, he was the first person to, in effect, use ‘samples’ of other records on his own recordings, way back in the 50’s (he called these ‘break-in’ records, the first being ‘The Flying Saucer’ in 1956). Goodman had returned to the US chart with ‘Mr Jaws’ (based on the blockbuster movie) in 1975, inspiring Hill’s use of the same template for his Christmas singles.
Levine and Hill had differing opinions on the club scene when asked to comment on 1976 for Blues & Soul’s end of year round-up. Whilst Levine cited ‘the movement of the Northern scene to modern 1976 disco releases, and the creation of the 12″ Disco Special’ as the most constructive thing to happen that year, Hill, to the contrary, highlighted ‘New York disco sounds’ as the most destructive element, with ‘the acceptance of Jazz, and the merging of Jazz, Funk and Soul, plus the breakthrough of acts like Parliament, Bootsy and Brass Construction’ as the positives. Levine felt it had been ‘the best year for dance music of all-time’ and both said that getting records into the charts had been their personal highlight of 1976.
Back then, making records is something I never imagined I’d one day do myself. December marked my first anniversary as a club DJ and it had been a memorable year in which I’d managed to establish myself locally, despite still being only 16. This was underlined by the fact that during the final 52 days of 1976 I only had 1 night off (such was my commitment that I even managed to fit in a Radio Catherine show on Christmas Day!). It was clear that I was driven – I wanted to eventually gain the type of respect that Les Spaine and Terry Lennaine, the DJ’s I respected, received from their audiences. That was the benchmark I’d identified during my first year as a DJ.
I met lots of DJ’s down the years to whom the music probably came a poor 3rd to what they regarded as the main perks of the job – making their beer money, whilst bedding as many birds as possible. These guys generally came and went, although some stayed the distance, purely by force of personality, their main strength being their confidence on the microphone and, consequently, ability to build a strong rapport with the crowd they worked with (generally the more mainstream the better, although Chris Hill is the prime example of a ‘personality DJ’ who worked with a specialist audience and was respected for the music he played).
My sights were set high, some might have thought unrealistically so given that DJ’s were regarded in many quarters as ‘ten a penny’, but I was ambitious and had focused my energies towards a definite goal – to get on the radio before I was 18. I was making a pretty good weekly wage for someone barely out of school, and I’d certainly begun to view this as my career, rather than the sideline that some of my contemporaries considered it to be, a supplement to their daytime work or something to tick them over while they were between jobs.
1976 finished on a high for me – I deejayed at the Chelsea Reach on New Years Eve and had a great night, seeing in ‘77 in style. It bode well for the coming year.
Anyhow, to round things up here are some stats for the 12 Time Capsules from ‘76.
Most artist inclusions:
4 Earth Wind & Fire
4 Fatback Band
4 Stevie Wonder
3 Barry White
3 Brass Construction
3 Candi Staton
3 Diana Ross
Most label inclusions:
14 Tamla Motown / Motown
10 CBS / Columbia
10 Philadelphia International
7 Warner Brothers
Total amount of tracks featured:
Hope you’ve enjoyed the first year of programmes. 1977 promises to be just as eventful.
Records from December 1976.
Revisited December 2006.