The first issue of Black Echoes in 1977 was dated January 1st. In the Soul Singles chart, KC & The Sunshine Band were knocked off their Christmas top-spot by a group who had already had a few hits on the chart, including a No.1. The year saw a good mixture of bands, soloists, vocal groups and instrumentalists all make their way to the top of the chart. The chart-toppers were dominated by American acts – but a British band and a trio of French disco experimentalists broke through. Unusually, all the weeks at No.1 by all of the acts were consecutive. There were 22 records in all. Spin ’em:
CAR WASH | Rose Royce | MCA 7 wks
As a precursor to my personal insight on this particular single, please see the 2nd blog – 1976 Soul Number Ones. It gives you the initial lowdown on this essential disco cut. Suffice to say, this was the first No.1 soul single of ’77 and what a scorcher! Topping the charts for an impressive 7 weeks, it was the title-track to a comedy film starring Richard Pryor. Producer Norman Whitfield created the soundtrack which strongly featured the group. With its distinctive opening handclaps, the song (sung with soulful energy by lead vocalist Gwen Dickey) captured the imagination of everyone – topping the US pop charts along the way and reaching the Top 10 in the UK. This was the group’s second UK Soul Singles No.1 hit.
DON’T LEAVE ME THIS WAY | Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes | Philadelphia International 2 wks
This enduring song written by Philly International pioneers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff was originally included on the 1975 album Wake Up Everybody. The song was popular as an album cut but never released as a single in the US. Subsequently, Thelma Houston recorded a more frenetic disco version which leapt to the top of the US pop charts. However, the track was issued in the UK on a single and proved a bigger hit in the pop charts (No.5) and the soul charts. The song later reached No.1 in the pop charts in 1986 when it was revived in a hi-NRG version by The Communards. The less said about that version the better.
BOOGIE NIGHTS | Heatwave | GTO 2 wks
I loved Heatwave’s first single in 1976 which was Ain’t No Half Steppin’. Regrettably, it was a total flop. The follow-up Super Soul Sister (with the glorious Turn Out The Lamplight on the flip, later covered by George Benson) didn’t fare much better. However, their third single – released at the tail end of January ’77 – absolutely blew up. It had already been getting huge plays as an album track since the group’s debut set had been released at the end of 1976. It rocketed up the Black Echoes charts and stayed at No.1 for two weeks. The track has remained a club and party favourite ever since. Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon in TV show The Wire) assists with backing vocals on the track.
SATURDAY NIGHT | Earth, Wind & Fire | CBS 1 wk
Earth, Wind & Fire had already run up three Black Echoes chart successes in 1976 and in March 1977 they achieved their first No.1 hit. Taken from their album Spirit (a No.1 album in November ’76) this great dance single provided them with their first UK Top 20 hit. Many more No.1 hits were to follow…
DOUBLE DUTCH | Fatback Band | Spring 1 wk
I’d first became aware of the Fatback Band with their early UK releases Keep On Steppin’, Wicki Wacki, Yum Yum (Gimme Some) and the brilliant (Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop. In 1976 they’d topped the Black Echoes soul chart for the first time with Do The Spanish Hustle. This fantastic disco treat was their last big record of the Seventies. But the fact remains, the Fatbacks created some of the most joyous, uplifting and exciting disco funk records ever made. Double Dutch is testament to that.
FREE | Deniece Williams | CBS 6 wks
What a debut single! Released in the US in October 1976, this lush ballad eventually got a UK release some four months later. It shot to the top of the UK pop charts – and of course, enjoyed a mammoth stay at the top of our own Soul Singles chart. Produced by Maurice White (of Earth, Wind & Fire) it is a spine-tingling soul classic. Its full album version is truly incredible but the edited single version works too. Of course, the B-side – ‘Cause You Love Me Baby – was an immediate ravers hit and played at all the best parties, blues dances and raves. It was later ‘rediscovered’ in the Eighties during the rare groove era. Two sides of sensational soul.
AIN’T GONNA BUMP NO MORE (With No Big Fat Woman) | Joe Tex | Epic 3 wks
Joe Tex had his debut single Come In This House, Baby released in the States by King Records in 1955. However, he had to wait ten years for his first UK release – 1964’s Hold What You’ve Got, which had been his first notable American hit. Prior to Ain’t Gonna Bump, his biggest US hit had been I Gotcha (1972) which reached numbers 1 and 2 on the R&B and pop charts respectively. That track was another that finally found some success on the UK music scene during the burgeoning rare groove era of the mid-late Eighties. His sole UK pop hit to date has been this humorous disco ditty which was a bigger hit in the UK than the US – reaching No.2 on the pop charts and No.1 right here on the Soul Singles chart. He was never able to achieve success like it again. Joe won a coveted Grammy award for the 45.
GOT TO GIVE IT UP | Marvin Gaye | Motown 2 wks
I bought the US 7” import of this – a hot, HOT tune! This single was heavily edited from the practically 12-minute version which took up an entire side of Marvin’s Live At The London Palladium double. It was the only studio recording on the album and was a concerted and deliberate attempt to break Marvin into the increasingly popular disco market. It was a huge success and ended up topping the US pop charts as well. The longer version was only available as a US promo but eventually issued in the UK on the flipside of A Funky Space Reincarnation.
YOU’RE GONNA GET NEXT TO ME | Bo Kirkland & Ruth Davis | EMI International 2 wks
Another massive ‘ravers’ tune that really hit the spot at house parties all over town, all over the country! This was another record that I couldn’t wait for the UK release, so snapped up an import copy from Contempo. When it was eventually released, the song became a surprise crossover hit in the summer. The reggae version by Brother Bill & Sister Pat Campbell was also popular at the time. The duo’s only other tune was Easy Loving from their one album together.
SHOW YOU THE WAY TO GO | The Jacksons | Epic 2 wks
Enjoy Yourself had been the first single released in the UK taken from the Jacksons’ first Philadelphia International collaboration with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff – their eponymous debut album. The single was a resounding flop. In 1977 it was reissued with the added bonus of having a Limited Edition 12” single selling for the price of a 7” (70p) – with this marketing gimmick, it didn’t quite reach the Top 40. However, the second single released from the album went all the way to the top of the pop charts – it also spent two weeks at the pinnacle of the Black Echoes Soul Singles chart as well. It didn’t require any attractive low-price 12”s either – in actual fact, it was never released on a large format disc either here or in the US. Show You The Way To Go signalled a new era of The Jackson 5ive’s legacy. The B-side contained the first song Michael Jackson wrote – the brilliant Blues Away, which was a big underground ravers hit at all the best parties. Like the Deniece Williams track mentioned earlier, it went on to become a rare groove classic in the Eighties.
I FEEL LOVE | Donna Summer | GTO 3 wks
This was Donna’s fourth hit on the chart and her first No.1. It was the first true entirely electronic disco hit and most certainly was a huge influence on the synthetic, synthesized pop music of the Eighties and the techno of the Nineties. It is still a very powerful record with extremely clever syncopated rhythms, its random bleeps, the infectious bass and its crisp production, all drawn together by Donna’s sultry and brilliant vocal performance. Of course, it was the futuristic aspect of the concept album I Remember Yesterday which included pastiches of 50s and 60s music. It most certainly was the sound of the future.
FLOAT ON | The Floaters | ABC 5 wks
With its quaint opening gambit of the group introducing themselves with their astrological star-signs and first names, this quirky soul tune was powered by a beautiful and dreamy arrangement and an insistent rhythm which beefed up as the tune went along. It was an immediate smash in the capital’s soul clubs and I was desparate to get hold of the 12” which contained the full 11-minute 49-second version but it was so in demand I couldn’t track it down in the shops. Luckily, a friend of mine worked for ABC’s publicity department and managed to nab me a copy. It has a bit of a reputation for being a bit cheesy now – maybe it is, but I still love it. Float on, float on.
LET’S CLEAN UP THE GHETTO | Philadelphia All Stars | Philadelphia Int. 1 wk
There’s a message in the music. This was the title track of a compilation album put together by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff containing a mix of previously released and newly recorded tracks. The cut drew together some of Philly’s biggest acts – Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, Teddy Pendergrass, The O’Jays and Dee Dee Sharp Gamble. The longer version was not available on a 12”, presumably in order to encourage people to buy the album. It was edited for the 7” single release. A litter campaign has never sounded so good.
MAGIC FLY | Space | Pye International 1 wk
More electronic disco – this time from France. This was the French group’s only real success. Unsurpisingly, the follow-up Tango In Space fared less well.
BEST OF MY LOVE | The Emotions | CBS 4 wks
I wasn’t aware of The Emotions’ earlier Stax output till later in life. The first record I heard of theirs was Flowers – produced by Maurice White – which I thought was an amazing record. The album of the same name became a firm favourite of mine. This single was taken from the follow-up album Rejoice and it was even better. It catapulted the sisters to the top of the US pop charts and the top of the Black Echoes soul singles chart as well. “It doesn’t take much to make me happy and make me smile…” – a record like this usually does the trick.
DO YOUR DANCE | Rose Royce | Whitfield 1 wk
After four singles on MCA, this was the first release for the group on Norman’s own Whitfield imprint. It’s another disco killer from the group with shades of Car Wash. The track really set the dancefloors alight but is not remembered as one of their greats. I think it is but that’s me. The 12” lick is the one to find with the full-length version. Disco dynamite!
SHOO DOO FU FU OOH | Lenny Williams | ABC 1 wk
Lenny originally sang with Tower Of Power and had already released a couple of solo albums – one for Warner Bros. and one for Motown. Neither had been successful. That all changed with his Choosing You album which contained this infectious disco tune. It remains a true ravers classic of the time.
SAY YOU WILL | Eddie Henderson | Capitol 2 wks
This style of disco jazz-funk was still very popular in 1977 and would continue to be so until the early Eighties. Trumpeter Eddie had a massive hit with this energetic instrumental stormer which clung to the top for a couple of weeks in November 1977.
BRICK HOUSE | The Commodores | Motown 1 wk
Superior disco funk from the almighty Commodores. They had previously hit the Black Echoes charts with Sweet Love and Just To Be Close To You in 1976. I originally had the UK 7” but later picked up the longer US 12”. This was the follow-up to the terrific Lionel Richie ballad Easy but it was great to hear the group get back into funky mode. Over the years the group had released so many outstanding dance tracks – including Slippery When Wet, I Feel Sanctified, Machine Gun and their 1972 Motown debut The Zoo (The Human Zoo). Brick House was up there with the best of them.
RUNNING AWAY | Roy Ayers Ubiquity | Polydor 3 wks
Taken from the album Lifeline, this dynamic groove really caused a stir on UK dancefloors – all the clubs and discos played it to death. Amazingly, the record never crossed over into the pop charts and was only ever a big hit on the UK soul scene. He had to wait until his 1978 single Get On Up, Get On Down before he achieved his first UK pop success. But although Running Away wasn’t a hit in the national charts, it did have the distinction of being the first No.1 in Black Echoes brand new Soul 12-inchers chart when it was launched on 5th November 1977. It actually spent four weeks at the top in that chart and was still in the Top 10 by the end of the year. Its 7-inch counterpart topped the chart for just three.
BACK IN LOVE AGAIN | L.T.D. | A & M 1 wk
L.T.D. (short for Love, Togetheness, Devotion) had been around for years but had only come to the fore with Love Ballad in 1976. However, this Grey & Hanks song provided them with an even bigger hit – but although a big US pop hit, it failed to translate to the British pop charts. Lead singer Jeffrey Osborne later went on to have solo success in the Eighties. Backing vocalist on the track is one Angela Winbush – who eventually gained fame in the Eighties alongside her then husband René Moore. The track was extracted from the group’s fourth album Someone To Love. Regrettably, the UK 12-inch didn’t include the 8-mins+ disco remix found on the US promo-12. It was simply the 7-inch edit. In the UK, the title didn’t include the bracketed Every Time I Turn Around which was how it was released in the States.
SERPENTINE FIRE | Earth, Wind & Fire | CBS 2 wks
Earth, Wind & Fire’s second No.1 of the year was the first single to be taken from their latest album All ‘N All. Serpentine Fire was a mid-tempo roller with a sophisticated and complex arrangement. The song was described by Maurice White as being about the energy that runs around your whole body. Apparently, the serpentine fire of the title relates to an Indian form of yoga and is the magic fluid which runs from your gonads to your brain that then shoots around your body. So, now you know.