When Black Echoes was first published on January 30th 1976, it didn’t have an albums sales chart for reggae and soul. The first reggae album chart was published within a couple of weeks of the newspaper’s launch – but the first soul album chart didn’t appear until some three months later. In all, 13 albums topped the album charts – mainly consisting of male artists and groups. No female topped the chart in ’76 and only one compilation made it to the top. Here is a rundown of all of the Number One soul albums of 1976. An asterisk indicates non-consecutive weeks at the top.
I WANT YOU | Marvin Gaye | Tamla Motown 1 wk
Prior to this long-player, Marvin had not released a solo studio album since 1973’s Let’s Get It On. In the interim, Marvin Gaye Live! had been issued in 1974 but nothing had been heard of him since. Released in the States on Tamla in March 1976, this album was a very welcome return of the great one for MPG fans like myself. The title-track was released as a single and was an instant smash. The only other 45 taken from the album was After The Dance. The LP is basically a collection of Leon Ware songs, mostly written with Diana Ross’ brother T-Boy Ross. Leon also produced and arranged the album. Although not as successful as his previous couple of studio albums, it was still a phenomenal seller. Consisting of mainly mid-tempo grooves, Marvin is on fine form throughout – his multi-layered backing vocals even more prominent than ever. It includes killers like Since I Had You and the sublime Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again. Its stature has increased over the years and is now considered an essential album for soul fans.
LOOK OUT FOR # 1 | Brothers Johnson | A & M 6 wks*
This was the first of seven albums released by brothers George and Louis Johnson – seasoned session musicians who played guitar and bass respectively. Protégés of Quincy Jones, this debut set by them displayed a musical dexterity which encompassed decent songs, funk-styled arrangements, a distinctive vocal sound and sterling musicianship. I’ll Be Good To You (later versioned by Quincy on his Back To The Block featuring vocals by Chaka Khan and Ray Charles) was the lead-single, topping the US R&B charts and reached No.3 Pop. The song reached No.6 on the UK Soul Singles chart, as did the follow-up Get The Funk Out Ma Face. The other single Free And Single wasn’t released in the UK, perhaps because the song was a flop in the States. The album includes the original version of the instrumental track Tomorrow which was vocalised in the 80s by another Q protégé, Tevin Campbell with a lyric by Siedah Garrett.
HARVEST FOR THE WORLD | Isley Brothers | Epic 1 wk
The Isleys’ debut No.1 in the UK Soul LPs chart was the first of many – albeit only for one week in July 1976. It included the hit title-track which reached No.4 on the UK Soul Singles chart. It was later covered successfully by British band The Christians in 1988. The follow-up ’45 Who Loves You Better failed to chart. This was the fourth album with the new line-up which now included brothers Marvin and Ernie, in addition to brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The previous three studio albums, 3+3, Live It Up and The Heat Is On had resulted in crossover success for the group – who exemplified their versatility with funk-drenched disco, exquisite ballads and rock-tinged arrangements. The album includes the connoisseurs classic Let Me Down Easy.
CONTRADICTION | Ohio Players | Mercury 2 wks
The Ohio Players had been around in various guises since the late 50s – but made their mark during the early 70s when they began releasing raunchy funk records like Pain, Walt’s First Trip, Got Pleasure, Funky Worm and Ecstasy. The singles Skin Tight and Fire (both ’74) saw their popularity rocket, the latter even reaching No.1 in the US pop charts. Contradiction was the group’s 8th album and included three singles – the biggest of which was Who’d She Coo. Far East Mississippi and Feel The Beat (Everybody Disco) didn’t really take off in the States and neither were released in the UK on singles. By this time, the group’s sound had become somewhat formulaic – the big hit on it was by far the best track. It reached No.3 on the UK Soul Singles chart.
SKY HIGH | Tavares | Capitol 4 wks
Tavares was a vocal group who had previously scored soulful successes with ballads like That’s The Sound That Lonely Makes, the Hall & Oates tune She’s Gone, Remember What I Told You To Forget and The Love I Never Had. 1975’s disco offering It Only Takes A Minute had provided them with mainstream success and in 1976, two disco singles from this album reached No.1 in the UK Soul Singles chart – Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel and Don’t Take Away The Music, both at the top of the ladder for 3 weeks. It was certainly the popularity of those 45s which led to the large sales of this album – which also included another UK disco smash The Mighty Power Of Love. The LP was their only hit album on the UK pop charts.
BREEZIN’ | George Benson | Warner Bros. 2 wks*
Jazz guitarist George had been recording since the 60s with varying degrees of success – with his own quartet and as a solo artist. This was his debut album for Warner Bros. and his first album to crossover in a massive way. Produced by Tommy Lipuma, it not only featured his lyrical guitar work but also – on his majestic interpretation of Leon Russell’s song This Masquerade – his completely amazing singing voice. That track, also released as a single, received a Grammy for Best Record of the Year. The album featured a who’s who of some of the best contemporary jazz musicians – including Harvey Mason, Ronnie Foster, Ralph Macdonald and Phil Upchurch. The title track was a version of an instrumental originally released in 1971 by Gabor Szabo & Bobby Womack (which itself later became a rare groove tune) and was a hit single. Apart from George’s stunning guitar prowess, much of the album’s popularity can be attributed to Lipuma’s beautiful production, in addition to the lush string arrangements of Claus Ogerman. These have been sampled to death – including the use of Breezin’ on Raheim’s Does Your Man Know About Me? (from the Juice soundtrack) and the incredible house mash-up In Paradise (by the Marathon Men) which lifts the strings from Lady. The album won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
MOTHERSHIP CONNECTION | Parliament | Casablanca 1 wk
For most soul music lovers in the UK – this was their introduction to the musical phenomenon created by the band’s leader George Clinton: P-Funk. Released at the tail end of ’75, it featured the singles P.Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) and Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk) and Star Child (Mothership Connection) – the latter two having their titles transposed from the album versions. A distinct difference to the group’s sound was the addition of horns featuring Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley who had previously worked with James Brown. “Play it on your radio and let the vibe flow through…” This was an influential album that now stands as a classic.
THREE | Bob James | CTI 1 wk
Bob’s first two albums (One and Two, natch) combined jazz fusion offerings which were pleasant, stylish and beautifully arranged. Tracks from those albums later helped lay the foundations of hip-hop when they were sampled by rap producers – Nautilus, Feel Like Making Love and Take Me To The Mardi Gras are all classic breaks. His third album followed the same format – sophisticated easy-listening jazz fusion (which later became known as smooth jazz) with consummate musicianship, fantastic arrangements and tight grooves. The killer cut on the album was the single Westchester Lady – another BJ track sampled-to-death by the hip-hop fraternity. Music to make you smile.
AIN’T THAT A BITCH | Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson | DJM 1 wk
I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger (also recorded by Hidden Strength) was the first Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson 45 in the UK Soul Singles chart reaching No.8. It had been included on his 1975 album for Fantasy called I Don’t Want To Be Alone, Stranger. In August he was back in the chart with the hugely popular single taken from this album – I Need It, which was prevented from reaching the No.1 spot by James Brown, stalling at No.2. It sparked sales of this album – typifying Johnny’s unique blend of blues, soul, funk and rock.
SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE | Stevie Wonder | Motown 12 wks*
Regular readers of the blog will know of my musical obsession with Stevie Wonder. The anticipation of this album was incredible. The previous collection – Fulfillingness’ First Finale in 1974 – was a monumental album for me. This particular collection (his first double) was expected in 1975 – but wasn’t ready that year and eventually surfaced in September 1976. Was it worth the wait? Everyone thought so. I certainly did. Spread across two albums and a four-track EP that came with it, 22 songs was an incredible SW feast to savour. It was an instant hit – and contained what were to become four smash singles: I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As – classics all. 130 collaborators worked with him on the album – including such soul luminaries as Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams, Syreeta, Greg Phillinganes, Susaye Greene, Bobbye Hall, Dorothy Ashby, Ronnie Foster, Nathan Watts, Herbie Hancock, Michael Wycoff, Bobbi Humphrey, George Benson, Josie James, etc. The album topped the UK Soul LPs chart for a total of 12 weeks – 7 in 1976 and 5 in 1977. It reached No.2 on the British pop charts. There were other tracks – such as Love’s In Need Of Love Today (later covered by Blackstreet), Pastime Paradise (later used as the basis of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise) and Isn’t She Lovely which proved to be as popular as the singles. Other killer cuts include Summer Soft, Black Man and the mournful Joy Inside My Tears. This album ended his ‘classic’ period which had begun with the groundbreaking Where I’m Coming From in 1971. Many people tout it as his most complete and accomplished work – including Stevie Wonder himself. I think Innervisions and FFF just have the edge on it, but it is nevertheless a masterpiece.
DR. BUZZARD’S ORIGINAL SAVANNAH BAND | Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band | RCA 1 wk
From one masterpiece to another. Dr. Buzzard’s was the brainchild of Stony Browder Jr. and August Darnell out of New York and combined disco with 30s swing. Well, that’s the simplistic interpretation. What they really did was something far more sophisticated – a kind of Hollywood Soul with all the glamour and glitz that suggests. It was like the musical equivalent of Biba. The sound was a hit in the clubs and discotheques of the UK – the lead single I’ll Play The Fool was proceeded by Cherchez La Femme. Both hits were released in the UK with the glorious ravers classic Sunshower on the flip. The third single Sour And Sweet didn’t get a UK release. The orchestrations and arrangements, rhythmic and otherwise, were absolutely perfect and so very different to anything else around. Cory Daye was lead vocalist and had a voice perfectly suited to the lyrically quirky songs and joyous exuberance of their vibe. This was fun music that could also be heartbreaking and tender. It remains for me one of the pinnacles of soul and dance music. The next album Meets King Pennett was just as great, the third Goes To Washington was patchy and by the final album in 1984 – Calling All Beatniks! – they’d lost it, in addition to losing August Darnell who had gone on to recreate himself as Kid Creole & The Coconuts. As an album, this debut stands up as one of the greatest albums of all time. Trust me.
OUT ON THE STREETS AGAIN | Various artists | ABC 1 wk
This Northern Soul compilation drew together a fine selection of in-demand tracks such as The O’ Kaysions’ Girl Watcher, Like Adam And Eve by The Reflections, Patti Austin’s Music To My Heart and Carl Carlton’s You Can’t Stop A Man In Love. It was good to know the oldies could still cut it.
SPIRIT | Earth, Wind & Fire | CBS 1 wk
The final chart-topping album of the year was by the phenomenal Earth, Wind & Fire, whose career had taken flight with That’s The Way Of The World in 1975. They followed this with a double album – Gratitude – which featured three sides of ‘live in concert’ recordings and one side of newly recorded material. Spirit was their third huge album in a row – and featured the hit single Getaway which reached No.6 on the UK Soul Singles chart and was around for a very strong 13 weeks. The second track to be released from the album – Saturday Nite – provided them with their first No.1 single in March 1977. As hugely popular as this album was, no one was really expecting the group’s next album to raise the standards bar even higher – but then, no one was quite expecting the phenomenon that was All ‘N’ All.
So, although the Soul LP chart was only around for some eight months, it yielded some classic albums. It’s taken as a given that both Marvin’s and Stevie’s albums are just essential – but I really did love the Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band album that year, along with George Benson’s brilliant jazz contribution. What were your favourite No.1’s that year? I’m curious…