Time Capsule - June 1977

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Tracklisting:

Donna Summer - I Feel Love (GTO)
C.J & Co - Devil's Gun (Westbound*)
New York Port Authority - I Got It (Invictus)
Emotions - Best Of My Love (Columbia*)
Cameo - Post Mortem (Casablanca*)
Le Pamplemousse - Get Your Boom Boom (Around The Room) (AVI*)
Fat Larry's Band - Centre City (WMOT)
Bob Marley & The Wailers - Exodus (Island)
Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23 (A&M)
Bootsy's Rubber Band - The Pinocchio Theory (Warner Brothers)
Candi Staton - Nights On Broadway (Warner Brothers)
Danny Williams - Dancin' Easy (Ensign)
Hot Chocolate - So You Win Again (Rak)
Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express (Capitol)
T Connection - Do What You Wanna Do (TK)
Commodores - Easy (Motown)

* denotes import

Other tracks considered - Arthur Prysock - All My Life (Polydor) / Barbara Pennington - You Are The Music Within Me (United Artists) / Billy Paul - Your Song (Philadelphia International) / Boney M - Ma Baker (Atlantic) / Brenda & The Tabulations - (I'm A) Superstar (Casabalanca) / Emotions Flowers (CBS) / Enchantment - Sunshine (United Artists) / James Wells - My Days Are Numbered (Polydor) / Laso - Another Star (Mca) / Lonnie Youngblood - Gonna Fly Now (All Platinum) / O'Jays - So Glad I Got You Girl (Philadelphia International) / Real Thing - Love's Such A Wonderful Thing (Pye) / Ronnie Laws - Nuthin' 'Bout 'Nuthin' (United Artists) / Silver Convention - Telegram (Magnet) / Tavares - One Step Away (Capitol)

The programme begins with an absolutely seminal track - undoubtedly one of the most influential recordings of the Disco era, Donna Summer's sonic revelation, 'I Feel Love'. I first heard this as the final track on her otherwise nostalgia based album, 'I Remember Yesterday', which I'd been mailed by the UK record company, GTO. Whilst the album concept was to look backwards, with a variety of musical references, 'I Feel Love' symbolised the future, with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotti well and truly laying down the blueprint for a new technological approach to Disco music, which would have a major bearing on the course of electronica, and eventually, the evolution of Techno music. Released as a single, 'I Feel Love' would become a UK number 1, whilst reaching number 6 on the US chart. 'I Remember Yesterday' (listed as all cuts) would also top the US Disco chart, with 'I Feel Love' back to back on 12" with a new track that wasn't on the album, 'Theme From The Deep (Down, Deep Inside)', joining album in the Disco chart, where it climbed to number 3. Five years later, in 1982, Patrick Cowley's inspired 15+ minute mix of the track would gain cult classic status (sadly, Cowley died later that year, having contracted the AIDS virus).

The first of 4 imports I was playing this month was C.J & Co's 'Devil's Gun', which WEA had sent to me on Westbound 12" ahead of its UK release on Atlantic. A huge track in the US clubs, which went all the way to the summit of the Disco chart and would just miss the UK top 40, peaking at number 43. The Detroit group was the brainchild of famed guitarist and Motown Funk Brother, Dennis Coffey. He co-produced 'Devil's Gun' with Mike Theodore, who he'd worked with since the 60's - credits including Coffey's Funk fusion classic, 'Scorpio', in 1971. Both Theodore and Coffey would release their own albums for Westbound, their names being synonymous with the label during late 70's.

Named after the largest bus terminal in the US, New York Port Authority had originally formed in Amityville, Long Island in the late 60's as The Magnetones. Having changed their name to Moonshadow, they built a solid reputation during the early-mid 70's as a touring band, specialising in covers of R&B hits. They also recorded in Los Angeles as the back up band for a group called Universal Mind, but nothing came of the tracks. In 1976 they signed to Invictus Records in LA, changing their name to New York Port Authority and hooking-up with legendary Motown producer, Brian Holland (Holland-Dozier-Holland) to record their only album 'Three Thousand Miles From Home'. 'I Got It', which included backing vocals from Eloise Laws, was their best-known track, gaining specialist support in the UK, but, like the LP, failing to pick up sales, They began work on a second album, but due to the poor performance of the first, the tracks remained unfinished and the group disbanded.

One of the biggest club tunes of the summer of '77 wasn't even released in the UK at the time - this was 'Best Of My Love' by the Chicago female vocal trio, The Emotions (sisters, Wanda, Sheila and Jeanette Hutchinson). For some strange reason CBS issued 'Flowers', the title track from their 1976 album, just as 'Best Of My Love' was being released as a single Stateside. What's even stranger still is that, despite 'Best Of My Love' going on to spend 5 weeks at the top of the US chart, it wasn't until September that it finally came out here, eventually peaking at number 4. Having picked up an import 7" on a trip to Manchester with Terry Lennaine, who brought the track to the attention of DJ's throughout Merseyside via his radio show, I was one of the first local DJ's to start playing this. I remember it becoming so big that even the most commercially minded DJ's, who rarely ventured outside the top 20 when it came to what they played, were forced to root it out on import. Given just how big it became throughout America, I was surprised to learn that it got no higher than number 11 on the US Disco chart, especially as the groups 'I Don't Want To Lose Your Love' had reached number 4 the previous year, yet only went as high as number 51 on the main chart. Produced by Earth Wind & Fire's Maurice White and Charles Stepney, 'Best Of My Love' would pick up a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group or Chorus and is nowadays recognised as a 70's dance standard. The sisters, who'd first come to prominence via their records on Stax, started out as Three Ribbons And a Bow, a family Gospel group who recorded for a trio of Chicago labels (VeeJay, Twin Stacks and One-Der-Ful), before embarking on their secular career as The Emotions (under the watchful eye of manager Pervis Staples, a family friend who'd go on to Soul immortality as one of the Staples Singers). They'd have a string of R&B hits for Stax, but would only manage to reach the lower region of the pop chart. It would be at Columbia where they'd enjoy their most fruitful period, culminating in the 1979 hit 'Boogie Wonderland', where they featured alongside Earth Wind & Fire. They'd continue to record until 1990, but never managed to re-capture the success they had in the Disco period.

Following on from 'Rigor Mortis', Cameo released a new single in the US, its title, 'Post Mortem', once again a medical term, whilst the two tracks were also very similar in style. They'd soon be issued back to back in the UK, but their popularity on the funkier dancefloors wouldn't generate enough sales to make the chart.

Having made waves with El Coco, Rinder & Lewis, were back with a new single, this time as Le Pamplemousse (French for The Grapefruit). 'Get Your Boom Boom (Around The Room)' was another track I picked up on import this month and, like 'Best Of Your Love', would be a favourite with Terry Lennaine and the more Funk based DJ's on Merseyside, becoming a popular club tune without being available in the UK. However, whereas 'Best Of My Love' would quickly be embraced by the mainstream crowd, 'Get Your Boom Boom (Around The Room)' remained more of a cult favourite. It was eventually issued here towards the end of the year on the Barclay label, but sunk without trace. It was the second single from Le Pamplemousse, and reached number 18 on the US Disco chart, their debut release being 1976's 'Gimmie What You Got', which failed to make any impression here.

Fat Larry's Band, led by Philadelphia born 'Fat' Larry James, would reach number 31 in the UK with their Vincent Montana produced (and co-written) debut single, 'Centre City', although it failed to show on the US Disco chart. James, who had previously been a back-up musician for Soul groups like The Delfonics and Blue Magic, would go on to record 7 albums with the band during the coming decade, their demise following his death in 1987, aged just 38. Despite making the chart with 'Boogie Town' and 'Looking For Love Tonight', which both peaked at 46 in 1979, the band would have to wait until 1982 before they released their biggest single, 'Zoom', which just missed out on topping the chart here. On a more underground level, it's another 1982 track, 'Act Like You Know', which is remembered most fondly, despite its failure to chart. 'Centre City' came from the album 'Feel It', which also featured a track called 'Down On The Avenue', the drums on which have been sampled by a number of Hip Hop artists, including NWA, Run-DMC, Ice T and the Jungle Brothers.

Onto one of the true titans of the entire popular music era, Bob Marley, who, with his band, The Wailers, made the top 20 of the UK chart (number 16) for the first time, courtesy of the title track of arguably his most influential album, 'Exodus'. Although the band were already well known within the black British community, as well as by white Reggae aficionados in this country (The Wailers had actually formed as far back as 1963), it wasn't until the 1975 single, 'No Woman No Cry' (recorded live at a famous performance at London's Lyceum Ballroom that year), that they made their chart breakthrough, peaking at number 22 ('No Woman No Cry' would return to the UK chart following Marley's death in 1981, this time reaching number 8). 'Exodus', with its driving rhythm, would become a firm favourite in the clubs, ranking alongside 'Jamming' and 'Could You Be Loved' as Marley's biggest dancefloor tunes. The classic Wailers line-up, Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (Neville Livingston), broke-up in 1974, the trio each going on to forge their own separate directions. The rest, as they say, is history, with Marley being dubbed 'the first Third World superstar' following the phenomenal success of his music, and his message, during the latter years of the 70's until his untimely death.

Taken from their 2nd album, 'Right On Time', 'Strawberry Letter 23' was a huge hit in the US, going top 5. Its success was more modest here (number 35), but it brought the brothers their first UK hit. Most people assumed that this was an original song, but it had previously been a single by perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked artists of all, Shuggie Otis (son of the legendary Johnny Otis), who first featured the track on his 1971 Epic LP, 'Freedom Flight' (one of precious few albums he released before losing his recording deal and fading into obscurity). Otis, a multi-instrumentalist, fused Blues, Jazz, Funk, and Pop, with a pinch of psychedelia, to create his own unique style, which was further augmented by his pioneering use of an instrument that wouldn't come into its own until much later, the drum machine. Sadly, the sporadic nature of his work, which was undoubtedly ahead of its time, saw him fall foul of his record company, and his brilliance was left unrecognised. That is until 2001, when former Talking Head, David Byrne, via his Luaka Bop label, re-issued his 1974 LP, 'Information Inspiration' (the album now also featuring 4 of the tracks from 'Freedom Flight', including Otis' wonderful original of 'Strawberry Letter 23'). The unusual title refers to strawberry scented letters written to Otis by his girlfriend (I remember buying an import copy of the Brothers Johnson single from the famous Probe record shop in Liverpool, which smelt of strawberries - this was after I'd received a UK promo, but I was suitably enticed by its novelty value to fork out for an additional copy). One of the brothers, George Johnson, came across the 'Freedom Flight' album as a result of dating one of Otis' cousins, and their version of 'Strawberry Letter 23', expertly produced by Quincy Jones, would be one of the most distinctive tracks of the time.

Next up it's Bootsy's Rubber Band, back with a new single called 'The Pinocchio Theory' ('don't fake the funk or your nose will grow') taken from the album 'Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!'. The central theme of the track would later inspire the character, Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk, from Parliament's forthcoming album 'Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome'. The track failed to make any real impression outside of hardcore Funk fans, but would further enhance the growing interest in P Funk, with Parliament, Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band providing a three-pronged assault, whilst other associated acts, like Parlet, Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns and the Brides Of Funkenstein, adding further muscle during the coming years.

Candi Staton returned to the top 10 with 'Nights On Broadway', a song written by the Bee Gees, which climbed to number 6 in the UK, becoming a club favourite in the process, although it failed to make the US Disco chart. It had originally appeared as the opening track on the 1975 Bee Gees album, 'Main Course', introducing Barry Gibbs falsetto vocal, which would become a trademark of the group's later recordings (the idea to sing falsetto being suggested by the albums legendary producer, Arif Mardin). Had we been told that in 12 months time the Bee Gees would be the biggest Disco act on the planet, we'd have laughingly dismissed the notion - we were in for a big surprise!

'Dancin' Easy' was something of a novelty single, based on the popular 'anytime, any place, anywhere' Martini advert from the TV. Its singer, Danny Williams, a South African who'd begun his career in England back in the 50's, was returning to the chart following a 14 year absence, his previous hit being in 1963. 'Dancin' Easy', released on Ensign, a label co-owned by London DJ, Chris Hill, reached number 30. This would be the first hit for the label that would be best-known for its releases by the Boomtown Rats and Eddy Grant throughout the coming years and, later down the line, SineLad O'Connor and The Waterboys (Hill's Brit-Funk affiliation was also represented by acts like Light Of The World, Incognito, Hudson People, Beggar & Co and Phil Fearon & Galaxy). 'Dancin' Easy' followed in the footsteps of 2 notable 70's tracks that had been adapted from TV commercials, 'I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing' by the New Seekers (Coca-Cola), which topped the chart following its release in 1971, becoming one of the best selling UK singles of the decade, and 'Jeans On' by David Dundas (Brutus jeans), which went as high as number 3 in 1976. This would be something of a swansong for Danny Williams, his most successful single, 'Moon River' going all the way to number 1 in the UK back in 1961. 'Moon River', from the film 'Breakfast At Tiffany's', won an Oscar for its composers Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer. However, in the US it wouldn't be Danny Williams, but Andy Williams who is best known for his version of the classic song. Danny Williams died in 2005, aged 62.

One of the most enduring British chart acts, Hot Chocolate recorded at least 1 hit per year between 1970 and 1984. They eventually reached the summit with their 15th hit, 'So You Win Again' (written by Russ Ballard, formerly of the band Argent), which, as with previous singles like 1975's 'Disco Queen' and 'You Sexy Thing', was huge with the more commercial crowd (Hot Chocolate were never viewed by Soul / Funk fans as anything other than a Pop group). Led by the main songwriters, West Indian born vocalist Errol Brown and bassist Tony Watson, they were unusual in Britain at the time, due to the fact that the group included both black and white members. Signing to The Beatles' Apple label in 1969 as the Hot Chocolate Band, they released a Reggae based cover version of the Plastic Ono Band's 'Give Peace A Chance'. However, due to the turmoil at the label, with The Beatles about to split-up, Hot Chocolate would move onto RAK records, owned by the highly successful British record producer, Mickey Most (The Animals, Herman's Hermits, Donovan, Jeff Beck, Lulu etc). Most would rack up a string of top 10 hits with Hot Chocolate during the first half of the 70's, starting of with 1970's 'Love Is Life', and including 'Brother Louie' (a Brown / Wilson composition that would provide a US number 1 for Stories), 'Emma' (their first top 10 hit Stateside) and, of course, 'You Sexy Thing', the track they're best remembered for (also in the US, where it reached number 3), which returned to the top 10 following it's inclusion in the film 'The Full Monty' in 1997. 'So You Win Again' would, however, remain their only number 1, although 'best of' compilations would top the UK album chart in 1987, and then again in 1993. Other hits written by Russ Ballard would include 'New York Groove' (Hello), 'Since You've Been Gone' and 'I Surrender' (Rainbow), and 'God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You' (Kiss - having originally gone top 20 for Argent in '73). In 2003, Errol Brown received the MBE, and in 2004, the Ivor Novello Award for his outstanding contribution to British music.

From Dusseldorf, Germany, Kraftwerk, are nowadays regarded as one of the most influential bands of the 70's, heralding the electronic age, which would subsequently have such a major impact on dance music. Kraftwerk, whose name translates into English as 'power station', was founded in 1970 by Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hutter, who had met as students in the late 60's and were both involved in the German experimental music scene of the time, which the UK music press dubbed Krautrock. As the band recorded its earlier material, various members came and went, but the classic Kraftwerk line-up - Schneider-Esleben, Hutter, Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos - was in place in 1975 when they toured following the success of their breakthrough album, 1974's 'Autobahn'. The LP and its title track would give the band its first UK hits in 1975 (single - number 11, album - number 4), establishing Kraftwerk at the vanguard of experimental electronica. They'd influence a coming generation of British bands, including the likes of the Human League, Ultravox and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, whilst inspiring David Bowie's groundbreaking album, 'Low' ('Trans-Europe Express' actually namechecks Bowie and a previous LP of his, 'Station To Station'). It wouldn't be until the early 80's that the full extent of their influence came to light, when black musicians in New York and Detroit, cited them as a major inspiration behind the Electro and Techno movements. 'Trans-Europe Express' wasn't a big track in the UK clubs, but was played on the specialist Roxy / Bowie nights of the time (the forerunner to the British Futurist scene of the early 80's). It was the type of record I'd put on early evening, because I personally liked it and it sounded so interesting, but wouldn't have fitted in peak time (it never made the UK chart). Little did we realise that this track would have such a massive bearing on the future of black music. This was down to the open-mindedness of Bronx 'master of records', Afrika Bambaataa, who'd begin to feature the track at Hip Hop block parties, where it eventually gained essential status (Bambaataa would refer to Kraftwerk as 'those funky white boys from Germany'). He would eventually use 'Trans-Europe Express', alongside a later Kraftwerk track, 1981's 'Numbers', as the template for his seminal Electro opus, 'Planet Rock', which would alter the course of dance culture, whilst helping to bring Hip Hop out of New York and into worldwide focus. As such, 'Trans-Europe Express' must be viewed, with hindsight, as one of the most significant records in the history of popular music.

Their first, and biggest, of a handful of hits between 1977-79, 'Do What You Wanna Do' was a dancefloor monster for T-Connection, just missing the UK top 10 (peaking at 11), whilst going all the way to number 1 on the US Disco chart. I remember this being an important record in terms of popularising the 12" with UK DJ's. Even though the first UK 12" had been released the previous October, many DJ's regarded the 12" as little more than a fad and refused, point blank, to buy them. It would still be some time before every dance release was available on 12", but an ever increasing amount were being issued. I recall a lot of DJ's dismissed them on the basis that they were too bulky to carry around, others couldn't see the point of a longer version that cost them more money, the 3-4 minute 7" standard regarded as ample (don't forget, British DJ's weren't mixing records like their US counterparts, so their whole approach was obviously different). It was a matter of people choosing to stick with what they were used to and resisting what they regarded as needless change. The more upfront Soul / Funk specialists, who were used to playing extended versions from albums, took to the format pretty much immediately, but, for a large percentage of mainstream DJ's, who rarely strayed from what was in the charts, it was a case of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. However, a track like 'Do What You Wanna Do' demanded to be heard in its unabbreviated 12" glory in order to get the full dynamic effect, so, by the time it was climbing up the chart, DJ's who only had it on 7" were berated by their audience for not playing the 'proper version'. As a result, this would be the first 12" bought by numerous DJ's, as we'll as normal record buyers in this country. There's no doubt that it helped change peoples opinions with regards to the validity of the format. Mastercuts maestro, Ian Dewhirst, once told me that if ever he saw a copy of 'Do What You Wanna Do' in a second hand shop he felt obliged to buy it, out of respect for the fact it was such a great record. As a consequence he had amassed dozens of copies over the years!

Onto the final track, and slowing things down with what's nowadays regarded as something of an evergreen ballad, 'Easy' by The Commodores, their first top 10 hit in the UK (number 9). Written by Lionel Richie, with the intention of becoming a crossover hit for the band, 'Easy' did the trick, reaching number 4 in the US, whilst topping the R&B charts, paving the way for similar Richie composed ballads in the coming years, such as 'Three Times A Lady', 'Sail On' and 'Still', and, subsequently, many of his solo hits.

Away from the clubs, the Sex Pistols marked the Queens Silver Jubilee (June 7th) with their notorious single, 'God Save The Queen', shocking the establishment in the process. Many believe it was denied the number 1 spot through industry manipulation, Rod Stewart's 'I Don't Want To Talk About It' holding it off.

Having passed my driving test in May '77 and spent £200 on my first car, a 1960's Triumph Herald convertible, I was able to cast my net wider when it came to potential club work. I was more than ready to move on from the Penny Farthing, and Liverpool was now a serious possibility. However, rather than heading through the Mersey tunnel, I actually ended up moving to the club next door, the Golden Guinea, where I'd spend 3 highly enjoyable years, whilst establishing myself as one of the leading club DJ's in the region.

The Guinea, as most people called it, like the Penny, was a 3 floor members club. The top floor was a bar, run by a larger than life lady called Twiggy, which would stay open after the rest of the club closed at 2am - there wasn't a DJ up there, just a jukebox. The middle floor had a stage where cabaret acts appeared, with a DJ, Rob Smedley (who'd been at the club for as long as anyone could remember) playing in-between. I'd work downstairs in a cellar type space where the walls were designed to make it seem like you were in a cave. It was referred to as the Disco (the legendary R&B singer, Jackie Wilson, had once appeared down there in the 60's, when the club was called The Kraal), and held around 250 people at a squeeze.

I can't remember how the clubs owner, John Stanley, came to ask me to work there, but I eagerly accepted, agreeing on a nightly fee of £10, which was a marked improvement on what I got at the Penny. I loved the club (especially the Disco floor), and used to go in there sometimes on my nights off, or after I'd worked at the Chelsea. Many of the Golden Guineas crowd wouldn't be seen dead in the Penny, which was regarded locally as something of a poor man's Guinea, the type of place people would go to who'd been knocked back next door. We were still in an era when guys had to wear a jacket to get into the club, although they were allowed to take it off once through the door, and the crowd at the Guinea was way smarter than those who went to the Penny. All in all it was a real opportunity to move up a gear as far as my DJ career was concerned, and I would grasp the situation with both hands.

I had a definite idea of where I wanted to take things on a musical level. Given the fact that Rob on the middle floor was happy to play the poppier stuff, I set myself the aim of making my floor one of the best places on Merseyside for Soul, Funk and Disco, somewhere you could hear imports alongside the best of the current releases, with the odd oldies spot thrown in for good measure. I didn't try to change things overnight, that would have isolated the existing audience, but I gradually made the room my own and, within about 6 months, had built a scene I could be proud of, with a solid core of regulars who were well into the stuff I played, and whose enthusiasm rubbed off on the other people in attendance, ensuring that the dancefloor stayed full, even when I played something that was a little less familiar.

The trick was to introduce newer records behind established floorfillers, whilst always having a big tune in reserve if something went wrong. I often saw DJ's, who were way too eager to impress, play all their biggest records far too early. They'd think they were tearing the place up when, all of a sudden, they'd realised that they'd run out of steam, and face the embarrassment of emptying the dancefloor at peak time. The rest of the night would prove to be a big struggle for these guys as they'd not only lost self-confidence, but also the confidence of the audience. Often they'd be replaced by another DJ the following week. I didn't go out all guns blazing the moment I saw a couple of people on the dancefloor. Instead, I'd hold back while the numbers built up and, once I felt that the place was primed, I'd take to the microphone to greet everyone and kick things off from that point. The intention was to bring the people onto the floor all at once, and keep them there - a simple theory, but not as straightforward as it sounds. The way you programmed the night was obviously key, but there was also a bigger picture to take into account - how you wanted the night to develop long-term. I was very much working with the audience, week-in-week-out, gaining their trust and gradually moulding things in line with my objectives. At the Chelsea Reach, the Penny Farthing and the Deerstalker, I was a DJ amongst other DJ's who worked in these venues, but the Golden Guinea would become 'my club' - it was an altogether deeper relationship, and one that helped me greatly evolve as a DJ.

Finally, just to let you know that the Time Capsule format has changed this month. Previously, every programme has been under 80 minutes long, enabling people to burn a complete show onto an audio CD if they want to listen away from their computer. However, this month we've gone through the 80 minute barrier for the first time, meaning that any CD copies would have to be mp3, rather than audio. I knew that it would only be a matter of time before this happened, the reason being that with more and more tracks being issued on 12", the average length is greater than it was. To miss out some tracks I'd have otherwise featured, in order to bring the time under 80 minutes, would compromise the show too much, and, with mp3 becoming much more widely used, I think this is the best way forward in order to safeguard the overall integrity of the programme, especially as the Disco era gathers momentum and extended 12" mixes become increasingly prevalent.