A David Bowie clip is twice as cool when it involves Luther Vandross (he’s the far left backing singer).
I once saw Errol Brown coming out of the Gents in a trendy Soho bar in the late 1980s and, while thinking he was shorter than I’d imagined, I just gave him a very cool smile as he walked past me while inside I was all “FUCKING HELL, IT’S ERROL BROWN!” because here was the man behind so many beloved pop hits of my youth — which is why his death upset me more than I imagined it would. While they were only modestly successful elsewhere, Hot Chocolate were a pop institution in the UK, having at least one hit every year between 1970 and 1984. With his distinctive bald head, Brown was as familiar a face on Top of The Pops as the DJs, one of the few regular black singers on the show who wasn’t American.
Hot Chocolate were a difficult band to pin down. Their records contained elements of soul, pop, glam, funk, dub, and psychedelia — sometimes all at once thanks to the production magic of Mickie Most. What linked some of them together however was a surprising bleakness, singles like “Emma” and “Brother Louie” are pretty grim for pop hits your mum probably liked, and even a love song like “Put Your Love In Me” has an edge of dark desperation about it.
They were such a singles band they didn’t release their debut album Cicero Park until several years into their hit-making career in 1974, and shockingly it was a flop despite containing the hit “Emma” and being a terrific album in it’s own right. The title track in particular is a fabulous piece of moody Blaxploitation soul-funk. If Curtis Mayfield had made this record it would hailed as a classic.
Download: Cicero Park – Hot Chocolate (mp3)
I just got back from a long weekend in New York City with the family. It was the first time the kids have been so we did a lot of touristy stuff I hadn’t done in years — Empire State Building, Central Park, Staten Island Ferry — which reminded me what a wonderful, exhilarating city it can be.
I haven’t counted them or anything but I’m pretty sure more songs have been written about The Big Apple than any other city in the world. A lot of them are great too, but if I had to pick one it would be this beauty from 1977.
Download: Native New Yorker (12″ version) – Odyssey (mp3)
I have this track in my iTunes library and I can’t remember where the hell I got it from. Whoever it was I’d like to thank them because it’s a fabulous record.
Penny Goodwin was a soul singer from Milwaukee who released her only album Portrait of a Gemini on a local label in 1974. Only 2,000 copies were pressed and, as is usual in these stories, it remained obscure until discovered by crate-diggers who elevated it to cult status with the subsequent rare prices for an original copy. Thankfully it’s been reissued and you can get a copy for a price within the reach of sane people.
“Too Soon You’re Old” is an anti-drug song with a righteous jazzy-soul vibe very much like the records Marlena Shaw was making at the same time. Enjoy.
Download: Too Soon You’re Old – Penny Goodwin (mp3)
Though this was a medium-sized hit in the UK in 1979 it became better known 10 years later when that great brass riff was sampled by S-Express which got to #1. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that the original is the best.
I love how the guy is playing bongos for what is obviously a synth-drum sound.
Give this a minute to get going and it’s quite fantastic. Blows the studio version out of the water which is saying something because I like that a lot.
This was the first House record to make the charts in the UK but little did I know when I bought the 12″ back in 1986 that it would turn out to be as influential and game-changing as ‘Anarchy In The UK’. I knew it was a bloody great record though, with a beat and a vocal that leapt out of the speakers at you.
This performance by Darryl Pandy on Top of The Pops must have helped it make a splash too.
Looks like she enjoyed Last Tango In Paris. I think this is outside the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho.
Download: Good Girls – Merry Clayton (mp3)
You don’t need me to tell you that Merry Clayton was the wailing backing voice on The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or that her own version of the song is fabulously funky. “Good Girls” was the b-side of that and is also on her 1970 debut album.