In 1976, it was a hot summer. Weather records were broken in the UK. Tarmac melted, refrigerators stopped working, and in London, we thought we would melt. At the same time, there was a perfect record around, to increase the funk of the funkiest year in decades.
Wild Cherry was a group of white men from America, but they sounded authentically black, in every way possible. From the instrumentation to the vocals, you would swear that you were hearing the latest afro-haired sensation from Philadelphia. In fact, they were from Ohio, and West Virginia, with their roots in the backwoods country music of that region. They later re-formed, with new members from Pittsburgh and Detroit, and discovered a new sound, during the early days of disco.
This single release from the eponymous album was a huge hit, all over the world, especially in the group’s homeland of America. Like many before them though, they failed to follow up on this early success, and never managed to repeat the sales with subsequent album releases. They broke up in 1980, but left us with this unique sound, a white band playing the funkiest black music you could imagine.
Continuing what seems to be a musical theme this week, I am recalling some of the soul songs, and dance classics, of my teenage years. They are all from America on this occasion, as the main alternatives here at the time were the Mersey Sound, or belated Rock and Roll. I doubt that this selection will attract that wide an audience, or receive a great deal of appreciation, as it is all in something of a niche market. However, as a memento of the parties and clubs of my youth, it is a priceless personal souvenir.
Tell it like it is. ( 1967) The ultimate slow dance track, from the smooth voice of Mr Aaron Neville. I was not much past fifteen when this was released, and I have played it regularly ever since, for over forty-six years.
Louie Louie. Not the original 1957 version, but the 1963 release by The Kingsmen. This became a Mod classic in the UK during the early 1960’s. Covered many times since, nobody beats the early funky feel of this dance-floor essential. Despite sounding like a group of black singers, with very soulful lead vocals, they were actually all white, and appeared strangely camp, clad in cardigans, and wearing caps. Can’t beat the 60’s!
Seven Days Is Too Long. (1967) This simple soul dance hit from Chuck Wood became a big hit in the UK, on more than one occasion. It has become one of the hall of fame records for fans of so-called ‘Northern Soul’, the American records played almost exclusively in clubs in the North of England. Even at 61, I cannot keep my feet still!
Nothing Can Stop Me. (1965) Snappy suited, with a Motown look and feel, Gene Chandler got feet tapping with this one. Better known for the huge hit ‘Duke of Earl’, Chandler moved on to greater things with this track, another adopted by those Northern Soul aficionados.
Barefootin’. Again in 1965, Robert Parker ensured that dance floors were filled with this upbeat recording. The subject of a few covers over the years, this is the original, and best, from the man himself.
Cool Jerk. A year later, in 1966, The Capitols released this one-off. Almost in its own genre, it is still undoubtedly a classic; as the numerous cover versions, and inclusion in film soundtracks, can testify.
Comin’ Home Baby. This 1962 song, by Mel Torme, is not a soul song at all. It could be called Jazz, possibly even Swing. Looking back at Mel through modern eyes, he seems somewhat ridiculous. Sharp suit, bulging eyes, college-boy haircut, and snapping fingers clutching a cigarette. But he was the epitome of cool in 1962, and to my mind, this is still one of the coolest records ever made. This video is like watching a history documentary, but they are still doing this sort of crap on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Perhaps better to not watch him though. Close your eyes and listen.
I Get The Sweetest Feeling. Already well known for ‘Reet Petite’, and ‘Higher and Higher’, Jackie Wilson made the journey from Doo-wop, to modern soul, throughout the 50’s and 60’s. This track is on my list for the memories it brings back to me, from 1968. His influence is self explanatory, when you recall the Van Morrison song ‘Jackie Wilson Said’, recorded in 1972.
When I’m Gone. Saving the best until last perhaps, this short love song from the wonderful Brenda Holloway sums up the early years of Tamla Motown, from 1965, and I simply love it.
There are many, many more, but this is just a snapshot of the party tunes of my youth. I enjoyed them, then and now, and I hope that you do too.