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About This Time 50 Years Ago… It’s The Hits Of May-ish, 1974!

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The Hottest Hits On The Planet:

“Rock The Boat” by The Hues Corporation…

And “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae

And so, we have arrived at the Disco Era! The era that, when people refer to the 70s as “The Decade That Taste Forgot™ ”, is the slightly more specific era they are referring to.

We have arrived at the first of the Disco Mega-Hits! The unapologetically un-rockin’ disco double-shot of “Rock The Boat” and “Rock Your Baby.”

There had of course been disco hits prior to this dynamic duo.

The earliest disco record on the RateYourMusic site is by the appropriately named First Choice, with “Armed And Extremely Dangerous.”

It starts off with a police-radio announcement, “calling all cars, be on the lookout for a dangerous man…”, demonstrating that both novelty and horniness were baked into disco from the very beginning. In spirit, “Armed And Extremely Dangerous” is not a million miles away from “It’s Raining Men.”

Being unashamedly commercial was another characteristic seemingly baked into disco from the very beginning.

As evidenced by the very name of The Hues Corporation, a pun on the Howard Hughes Corporation, whilst also being a pun on the fact that they were Black.

The two guys and the girl of The Hues Corporation were clearly obsessed with old Howard: they initially wanted to call themselves The Children Of Howard Hughes.

In fact, they did, for a little while, whilst playing at the Circus Circus, a casino in Las Vegas, so called because – according to the casino’s founder – “At first I planned a Roman circus motif, but changed my mind and decided to build a circus like we are all familiar with – instead of a Roman circus, it’s a circus circus.” Makes perfect sense to me!

You have to remember that this was the era in which H:oward Hughes checked into a room at the Desert Inn Hotel and liked it so much that he refused to leave:

– Not just the hotel, but the room! – For four years!!

During which time he bought: first the hotel itself, and then half of Las Vegas. If the people of Las Vegas had a bit of a Howard Hughes obsession, they had good reason.

Still, calling yourselves The Children Of Howard Hughes does suggest a twisted sense of humour. It was this twisted sense of humour, combined with a general sense of shamelessness, that led The Hues Corporation to their next project:

Working on the soundtrack to Blacula!

Incredible as it may seem, neither working at a casino with a tacky name, nor working on Blacula would be the cheesiest moment of The Hues Corporation’s career. It was all just a warm-up for “Rock The Boat.”

“Rock The Boat” is pure cheese – pure cheese was baked into disco from the very start! – from the lyrics about carrying a cargo full of LOVE AND DE-VO-TIOOONNN!!!!!, to their enthusiastically jerky dance moves, to one of the dudes giving the dance instruction of rockin’ on with your bad-self. w

Whilst clearly having no idea what a bad-self could possibly be.

He instructs you to rock on with your bad-self with all the conviction of a children’s entertainer.

Which appears to be what The Hues Corporation were, whenever they weren’t playing a circus-themed casino.

According to a cover article on Billboard, the week that “Rock The Boat” hit Number One, they were playing Disneyland.

“Rock The Boat” is such a catchy piece of cheese, and full of so many hooks, that it could almost be a medley. I think I grew up just assuming that it was a medley. “Our love is like a ship on the o-cean” and “I’d like to know when, you got the notion” could very well be the vocal hook of their own separate songs. And yet they are not even the chorus!

“Rock The Boat” is an 8.


Compared to “Rock The Boat”, “Rock Your Baby” sounds like an underground classic.

At least George McCrae doesn’t sound like a children’s entertainer.

“Rock Your Baby” is – as reviewer Tom Breihan describes it – the first intentional disco Number One, the first Disco Mega-Hit specifically designed to be a Disco Mega-Hit. In terms of influence and cultural importance “Rock Your Baby” is pretty much the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of disco, bringing the gay disco underground into the mainstream.

For the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of disco, “Rock Your Baby” is surprisingly understated: evidence that sometimes a revolution will come, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Or, in this case, the whispered murmuring of a single word: “sexy.”

As was the case with “Rock The Boat,” very many of the characteristics that made disco, ‘disco’ are already present in “Rock Your Baby.” The strings. The chicken scratch guitar. The inability to resist the temptation to run their finger down the piano keys! But for a disco track – or even a proto-disco track – “Rock Your Baby” is still surprisingly mellow.

So mellow that it almost sounds as though it could have kick-started the Yacht Rock Revolution! This is partially due to George’s murmur, but it’s mostly due to the clunky drumbeat, coaxed out of an unimaginably primitive drum machine.

A drum machine so primitive it wasn’t even a proper dedicated drum machine; it came as part of an organ.

The clunkiness of the drum machine makes “Rock Your Baby” sound low-fi, low-budget; it sounds like a demo. This clunkiness, representing both George’s awkward attempts at being a suave lothario and the timid steps towards the dancefloor as the producers tried to figure disco out, is part of the appeal. Lo-fi, low-budget disco is not something you hear every day.

“Rock Your Baby” is an 8.


Meanwhile, in Jackson Land:

“Dancing Machine” by The Jacksons

“Dancing Machine” machine is not about Michael Jackson. The song is about a girl. The girl is the dancing machine. This may seem ironic. If there is one thing that you know about Michael, it’s that he is a dancing machine.

Okay, there’s probably one other thing that you know about Michael, but we won’t go into that.

Also because “Dancing Machine” – or Michael’s performance of it, most notably on Soul Train but also on a whole bunch of other shows – popularized one of the two dances of the late 20th century that people like to do at parties when they think they are being funny:

I’m talking about ‘The Robot.’

The dance in which you pretend to be: a dancing machine.

Michael would also be responsible for popularizing the other dance that people like to do at parties when they think they are being funny. He truly was a dancing machine.

Like the other dance, Michael didn’t actually invent The Robot.’ The dance goes back to before robots were even invented. Back then they were pretending to be mannikins.

Then the 60s arrived, and popping and locking crews started to pop up in the Black suburbs of L.A.

They particularly popped up  around a club called Maverick’s Flat in South L.A. – aka “The Apollo Of The West” – a club so hot that The Temptations played there opening night.

At the centre of all this poppin’ and lockin’ was Don Campbell.

Don was such the king of poppin’ and lockin’ that some people referred to lockin’ as ‘Campbellocking.’

Some of his crew specialized in dancing The Robot:

I’m thinking of Charles “The Robot” Washington, not to mention Bill “Slim The Robot” Williams, whose qualifications included performing as a living manikin in a clothing store.

Many of these 60s robot dancers would end up as Soul Train dancers in the 70s, once Soul Train had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. And at least one robot dancer got to do the robot on Soul Trainbefore Michael did.

That robot dancer was former ballet-student Damita Jo Freeman. She did the robot – and a whole lot of other freaky bad stuff – right next to James Brown, who seems so taken aback that – for possibly the only time in his life – he doesn’t quite know what to do!

If you’ve got nothing else to do today, just disappear down a rabbit hole of Damita Jo Freeman dancing videos. They are… truly something.

As a song, “Dancing Machine” itself isn’t hugely great, apart from the “dancin’-Dancin’-DANCIN’!!!” reprise, which has been sampled a zillion times – usually by the most commercial rappers around, ie both MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice! – and rightfully so.

“Dancin’ Machine” is a 7.

Speaking of Soul Train…


Meanwhile, in Soul Train Land:

“The Sound Of Philadelphia” by MFSB

By 1974, Soul Train was pretty much the centre of the funk soul brother hit making universe. If the kids in the Soul Train Line Dance got down to you, you were IN!

But “Soul Train” needed a theme song. A proper theme song. It had been using “Hot Potato (Piping Hot)” by King Curtis and that had been fine – in fact it’s quite funk-tastic – but it was ten years old!

So what was Don Cornelius, the host and producer of Soul Train to do, but hire Gamble and Huff to come up with a theme song.

Gamble and Huff were the owners and producers of Philadelphia International, the only record label that might also be able to claim to be the centre of the funk soul brother hit making universe.

They had invented a whole lush new soul sound and dominated the charts with “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (it’s a 9) and “For The Love Of Money” (it’s a 9.)

And “Backstabbers.” It’s a 10.

“Hmm. You don’t say. I’d never really considered that.”

If anybody could come up a suitable Soul Train theme song it would be these guys. And they did. They came up with a theme song that was everything that Don could possibly have wanted! Like Barry White’s “Love’s Theme”, the non-television theme song a couple of months earlier, it sounded very much like a television theme song. Also, it featured the words Soul Train quite prominently, so everyone knew what show they were watching. Also, it was funky.

Whilst they were negotiating the terms of their collaboration, Don had made a curious – not to mention nonsensical – demand. Don stipulated that they couldn’t use the words “Soul Train” in the title. Which is why we got the weird and awkward title of “T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” Ironically of course, Soul Train was filmed in Los Angeles.

In naming the song “The Sound Of Philadelphia,” the record was basically a free advertisement for Philadelphia International, blasted into the homes of millions of soul-loving viewers each week.

They were asked to produce an advertisement for Soul Train” and they turned it into an advertisement for themselves!

They were however, being just a tad overambitious. Soul Train never quite managed to reach “people all over the world.” “T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” however, was a hit – albeit only a moderate hit – “all over the world”, even in places where people had never been aware of the existence of Soul Train before. The theme song to the show was arguably bigger than the show!

Don clearly wanted to get his hands on some of that theme song money himself, since he soon started Soul Train Records and switched the theme song to the quite similar, but nowhere near as good, “Soul Train ‘ 75” by The Soul Train Gang.

It was not a hit. This was followed by “Soul Train ‘ 76” and “Soul Train Theme ’79”– also not hits –  before finally returning to “T.S.O.P.”, the only Soul Train theme song anyone ever recognized, even if these new versions of “T.S.O.P” – increasingly New Jack Swing and hip-hop influenced, including one version by Naughty by Nature – were almost unrecognizable.

“T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia)” is a 7.


Meanwhile, in Paul Land:

Band On The Run” by Wings

Paul McCartney spent much of the 70s – hell, he’s spent much of his career – trying to reconcile the two sides of his personality. The musical genius of melody-side – capable not only of coming up with pretentious schemes such as a medley of songs that last the entire side of an album…

But capable also of pulling such pretentious schemes off – engaged in a constant battle with the dweeb with a love of silly songs, the dweeb who wrote “Mull Of Flippin’ Kintyre.”

“Band On The Run” is one of those occasions where the two sides manage to come to an arrangement, managing to be both silly and pretentious at the same time. Silly, because it’s about a band being on the run, a charmingly silly idea. The mere idea of a band being on the run is such a fun idea that it’s a shame Paul didn’t decide to use it to produce his own adaptation of Some Like It Hot. Sure, Linda would have made a disappointing Marilyn, but…

And pretentious because “Band On The Run” is three songs stuck together. Like a less bombastic version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was still a year away.

Or, possibly more accurately: one proper song plus two ideas-for-songs, cut and pasted onto the start of the proper song.

Or, possibly more accurately: one proper song plus two ideas-for-songs, cut and pasted onto the start of the proper song.

As such, it really only makes sense to rate each of these songs/ideas-for-songs separately, and then average them out.

  • So… the whole thing starts off with the quaintly melancholy slide-guitar-drenched idea-for-a-song that I guess we’ll call “Stuck Inside These Four Walls.” The song itself might not really go anywhere – it is, after all, just an idea for a song – but the guitars sure do sound pretty on the radio.

“Stuck Inside These Four Walls” is a 7.

  • The next section, which I guess we’ll call “If We Ever Get Out Of Here”, picks up the tempo a tad, and adds a little more crunch to the guitar, but it’s basically one line that Paul stole from a random remark that George Harrison made. Whilst I could certainly imagine “Stuck Inside These Four Walls” being fleshed out into a proper song, and perhaps even a hit, I can’t imagine a full-length “If We Ever Get Out Of Here” being anything but ponderous. I’m always slightly thankful when it gets cut off after less than a minute.

“If We Ever Get Out Of Here” is a 5.

  • Finally, at about two minutes in, we get to “Band On The Run” proper! Everything before that was just to hype us up!

Paul hopes we’re having fun!

We are having fun!

The “Band On The Run” part of “Band On The Run” is clearly the best part of “Band On The Run.” It also makes up most of its running time – about three and a half minutes out of a total of five-and-a-half-minutes – and so could have stood alone as its own song.

Maybe it should have. Maybe if it had it would have gone all the way to Number One in the UK.  As The KLF taught us in “How To Get A Number One The Easy Way.”, just under three-and-a-half minutes is the perfect length for a UK Number One. They seem to be more flexible about these things in the US, since “Band On The Run” went all the way to Number One there.

“Band On The Run” is a lot of fun, even if it is slightly spoiled by Paul’s insistence on including cute character names like “Sailor Sam”? Had he learnt nothing from “Lovely Rita” and “Rocky Racoon”?

Maybe I’m being unfair.

Genius suggests that Sailor Sam was a re-occurring character in a children’s comic called “Rupert Bear.” Although “Rupert Bear” had been a comic strip since 1920, by the early 70s it was also a TV show. The theme song became a moderate UK hit. Perhaps Paul, Linda and 3-year-old Stella liked to watch it together.

Who knows?

The “Band On The Run” part of “Band On The Run” is an 8. That averages out to 6.7! But here’s where it gets tricky. Since the “Band On The Run” part of “Band On The Run” makes up about two-thirds of “Band On The Run,” we should weight it accordingly, and… listen, I’m not going to walk you through my Math, but I reckon that works out to 7.2.


Meanwhile, in Cult Band Land:

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” by Sparks

John Lennon was watching Top Of The Pops and he saw something so exciting that he instantly had to call up Ringo – presumedly the Beatle most likely to appreciate something as silly as this – to tell him: “You won’t believe what’s on television. Marc Bolan is playing a song with Adolf Hitler.”

And honestly, I can’t think of a better description.

So, how had we found ourselves here?

Sparks were Ron and Russell Mael, and they were brothers.

They were living in the Pacific Palisades, in the outer suburbs of Los Angeles, feeling out of place amongst all the hippies and surfers.

America was no place for glam-rock, or whatever it was that Sparks did, particularly not the way they did it. In order to become pop stars, Sparks had to go to the UK, where, what with the market having been softened up by Bowie and T. Rex and um, Gary Glitter, they fit right in! By which I mean, they totally stood out and had hits accordingly.

What with their “Marc Bolan playing a song with Adolf Hitler” image, they would have stood out without Russell sounding like a eunuch.

They would have stood out without incorporating “High Noon”-style gunshot sound effects – plundered from the BBC sound effects library – into their big hit single.

They would have stood out without lyrics about hearing “the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers.” All of which is pretty over-the-top.

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” could have been even more over-the-top. The original idea was for each verse to conclude with a famous movie quote, an idea that was sadly put aside, otherwise the song may have been called “Frankly My Dear I Don’t A Damn” or “Well, Here’s Another Nice Mess You’ve Gotten Me Into.”

Or: “Louis, I Think This Is The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship.” Although that last one would have been a very different song.  

1974 was clearly a good year for over-the-top glam rock fabulousness, since the song that blocked Sparks from having a Number One in the UK (“This Town…” peaked at No.2) almost matched it, falsetto squeal for falsetto squeal:

At virtually every other moment in my life that The Rubettes’ “Sugar Baby Love” has reached my earholes, it has been so much more exciting than whatever song I had been listening to before it.

“Sugar Baby Love” has everything! The “Twist & Shout” intro! The Barry-Gibbs-annihilating squeal! The doo-wop “bop-shoowaddy”s! The stompin’ beat! The over-earnest plea to hold your baby love close!

Sadly for The Rubettes – a band made up of random studio musicians that had not even existed before they created this masterpiece – they have the misfortune of being heard right after Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us.”

“Sugar Baby Love” is a 9.

I hope Sparks didn’t feel sad about not quite getting to Number One in the UK. For five years later they would go all the way to Number One… All Over Heaven!!!!! Which is infinitely more exciting.

Sparks’ influence lives on. I’m sure you’re aware of the Sparks documentary that got a lot of people excited a few years ago…

And I’m willing to bet money, that Last Dinner Party are fans, at least of this song. Oh lookie-here, it looks as though I was right! Somebody owes me money!

Faith No More also released a cover as a single sometime during the 90s, which makes perfect sense.

Even Queen at their most camp never quite managed to top this. And “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” is a 10.

What a crazy time to have been alive!

To hear these and other 70s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream on Monday nights Melbourne time… so about Monday lunch time London time… breakfast New York time?

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JJ Live At Leeds
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May 27, 2024 11:07 am

That Rupert The Bear theme song makes me shudder. Unbearably twee and the cartoon wasn’t any better. Even as a kid i couldn’t stand it and now 40 years later it’s back to haunt me.

Paul on the other hand was indeed a big fan of Rupert. As evidence of his dweeb side there’s Rupert and The Frog Chorus from the early 80s. An animated short film with Paul credited as writer, producer, voice and music. The song from it We All Stand Together was a massive UK hit. That’s what being a Beatle gets you, the power to take your childhood loves and make your own version as a grown up. What a life he has!

I can forgive him his whimsical side for everything else he gave us. Like Band On The Run; a 10 from me. Though Sparks is even more of a 10.

Virgindog
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Virgindog
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May 27, 2024 11:17 am

As tempting as the a rabbit hole of Damita Jo Freeman dancing videos is, I’m afraid I’m already pretty deep into Sparks. I might just pay for the documentary later.

Nice work, Dan!

Last edited 27 days ago by Bill Bois
mt58
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mt58
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May 27, 2024 11:25 am

I never change the station or skip the playlist when “Rock The Boat” pops up, because I can’t deny Hubert Ann Kelley her six seconds of pop music hookery excellence.

Cheese, perhaps. But I’m a sucker for it. Time-stamped at 2:12 for your convenience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHKGICkiQkA&t=124s

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 27, 2024 11:30 am

I think I have spoken before about a long-standing aversion to the music and the very idea of Johan Sebastian Bach. It literally took decades for my defenses to wear down.

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” was one major blow.

I first heard it via Siouxsie & the Banshees’ cover, and quickly sought out Sparks’ work as a result.

In the liner notes of the collection I bought, I learned that “This Town” and “Something for the Girl With Everything” were both inspired by the etudes of J.S. Bach.

Once you know it, the influence is obvious. But it still surprised me how the stuffy music of yesteryear could sound so fresh and so zany in a new context.

I still resisted Bach for some time after learning this fact, but “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” softened me up a great deal.

It was as if Bach himself were issuing a challenge to me. It ain’t him that’s gonna leave!

stobgopper
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stobgopper
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May 28, 2024 1:47 pm

I like to think of ‘Band on the Run’ as all that’s left of McCartney’s attempt to write a ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ musical. The song was originally planned as the overture, and contained parts of other numbers, including the rollicking ‘Franz!’ (subsequently reworked as ‘Jet’) and lost songs like ‘O Haydée’ and ‘Wait and Hope.’ What could have been…

bcm4648
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May 29, 2024 1:33 pm

Thank you for this look at what was playing on the radio when I was born. It turns out disco and I are the same age!
I just missed “TSOP” being my #1 birth song by a few weeks, which is a shame, since that song is a pure burst of joy.

LinkCrawford
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May 30, 2024 11:59 am

Sheesh, I LOVE “Mull of Kintyre”!

Also, I cannot tell you how much I would pay to go back in time and see the Carpenters, Hues Corporation and Nelson Riddle in concert. That is a concert made in Link heaven.

And “TSOP” may be my favorite #1 song of all time. I’ve claimed it in the past, though some other tough contenders may sometimes overtake it. It is indeed a burst of pure joy as bcm4648 said.

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