The Drifters 1963 version of “On Broadway” is a classic as any fule kno, but I also love George Benson’s live version from 1978, probably more so.
The Drifters’ rendition has a melancholy feel as if they didn’t really believe they could make it there, which was probably the case for a black man in early 1960s. Benson, on the other hand, sounds completely convinced that he will be successful, especially the way he shouts “Cause I can play THIS HERE GUITAR!” — which, given that he made his name as a Jazz guitarist, wasn’t just bragging.
While I tend to side more with the world-view of The Drifters version, it’s hard not to get caught up in George Benson’s peppy positivity. Plus, it’s funky as hell.
It took a while for us Brits to make soul and dance music as good as the Americans. Our efforts were decent but, from Dusty Springfield’s Motown-esque pop to early Britfunk like Hi-Tension and Linx, often suffered from thin production and lacked the warmth and oomph of our Yankee cousins.
As a consequence British soul music didn’t cut the mustard across the Atlantic and the acts which did make it were white and made their records over there. It wasn’t until 1982 that Londoner Junior Giscombe’s debut single “Mama Used To Say” became the first record by a black British soul artist to be a major success on the American R&B charts. In addition to that barrier-breaking he was also the first black Brit to appear on “Soul Train” which is a real badge of honor.
We hadn’t completely cracked the code though. To become an R&B smash in the States the single still needed the help of a punchier American remix which beefed up the original. But we must have learned something because after that America opened its hearts and charts to other Brit soul acts Loose Ends, Sade, and Soul II Soul.
My copy of the single is a 12″ white label promo, bought in a record store I used to frequent which had a lot of review and promo copies of records probably offloaded by music journalists for booze and drug money. It has a sticker on it that says “Special New Mix” which is different to the others I’ve heard so I’ve no idea if it was ever a commercial release.
I assumed the “DJ” in this clip wasn’t the same guy talking on the record, but after some internet detective work I discovered that it actually is him — a fellow called Mike Cleveland who formed the group. Would never have put that voice with that face.
Classic tune this of course, so proud that my kids know the words to it. Parenting job done.
This was a UK hit in 1968 and I thought it was very funny as a kid. I still think it’s funny but now I love it’s big beat even more, it must be the funkiest novelty record ever made. It also makes me wonder if Pigmeat Markham invented Rap.
Keeping the (unintentional) dance music theme going this week. It’s a toss-up between this and “Lost In Music” for my favourite non-Chic Edwards/Rodgers production. Few records are this sublime and silly at the same time.
“Shack Up” remains a song best known as a Hip-Hop sample and, for people of a certain age, by the 1981 cover version by A Certain Ratio. The 1975 original by Banbarra wasn’t a hit but became a cult favourite in Northern Soul clubs which is where ACR would have heard it.
Not much is known about Banbarra beyond the fact that they were from Washington, DC and this was the only record they released, supposedly due to manager shenanigans. But in this age of knowing everything about every record ever made I like some things remaining a mystery, it makes the record even better.
I don’t know if the alternative culture program Twentieth Century Box was ever shown outside of London but it was essential viewing. Produced by Janet Street-Porter, it gave a very young Danny Baker his first TV gig and was on the air in the early 1980s during a golden age for British youth culture (and had a theme tune by John Foxx). It devoted episodes to the Rockabilly scene, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Blitz Kids, often providing their first coverage on television.
At the time Danny Baker was at the NME where he’d been a champion of soul and dance music before it was trendy so he may have been the instigator behind this terrific episode about the British Jazz-Funk scene as he had just written a cover story about it for the paper.
As Danny says at the start of the program the scene wasn’t covered properly by the music press and even today it remains a mostly unknown story. The histories of Mods, Skins, and Punks have been chronicled down to the last shirt collar detail, but Soul Boys (and girls) have never received the same attention beyond the occasional joke about Essex boys and Escort XR3is with fluffy dice. Northern Soul gets far more respect despite being conservative and reactionary at heart — we don’t want now’t to do with that soft southern funk rubbish. Brit-Funk was a multi-racial, working class scene full of kids creating their own original styles but it was never as cool. Maybe it was too genuinely working class and non-elitist, you didn’t need the right trousers to join in. It really was all about the music which didn’t give music writers much of a hook.
The thing that strikes me the most watching the wonderful club footage in this show (which starts around the 13-minute mark) is how damn happy and joyous the atmosphere is. I’d forgotten all about that, and it brought a little lump to my throat. This was an era of violence between Punks and Teds, Mods and Rockers, and tense rock concerts where you had to be worried about being crushed by a pogoing mob or nutted by some skinhead, so the kids all saying “there’s no trouble” meant a lot more than it seems now.
My musical tastes were too varied to be 100% part of any scene back then (I liked Earth, Wind & Fire and Joy Division) but I often went to the Lyceum Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights when Steve Walsh, and Greg Edwards were DJ-ing. The place was always packed to the rafters with kids wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their Tribes from different parts of London — Brixton Front Line, Dalston Soul Patrol — all blowing whistles and chanting along with the records.
The highpoint of the evening was usually the massive communal line-dance to the funky Latin groove of “Jingo” by Candido. Other big tunes from this time were the glittery “Casanova” and the anthemic “Love Has Come Around”. All these are the extended 12″ mixes so get ready for some big downloads, and some dancing.