353. George McCrae – Rock Your Baby (1974)

I love George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby. One of my favourite number 1s of the 70s, this is a landmark in early disco music, thanks to the slinkiest of grooves and McCrae’s heavenly falsetto – and to think, his performance was the happiest of accidents. Finally, after seemingly endless 50s rehashes and tributes, here was a new sound.

KC and the Sunshine Band were Florida-based disco pioneers, formed in 1973 by record store employee Harry Wayne Casey (aka KC) and TK Records engineer Richard Finch. The same year, Vince Aletti became one of the first to use ‘disco’ as a term to describe a genre, in Rolling Stone that September. Casey and Finch had begun releasing material with their new band and among the demos they worked on was Rock Your Baby.

The backbone of the track was courtesy of an early drum machine on a Lowry organ left in the TK Records studio, a rare sound back then. Casey took to the keyboards and Finch took care of the bass and real drums, and as they built up the track, they felt something magical. Finch told Songfacts ‘it was like God was in the building or something’. They paid KC and the Sunshine Band guitarist Jerome Smith $15 to lay down some licks and wrote lyrics inspired by Hues Corporation’s hit Rock the Boat. KC and the Sunshine Band were not an established act at this point, and Casey couldn’t reach those high notes, so who should they get to sing it? TK Records owner Henry Stone suggested soul singer Gwen MCrae, but fortune smiled on her husband, George, instead.

George Warren McCrae, Jnr was born 19 October 1944 in West Palm Beach, Florida, the second of nine children. He formed his own singing group, The Jivin’ Jets, before joining the US Navy in 1963. That same year, he married Gwen Mosley. Four years later, the McCraes reformed the group, but they split soon after, and they began working as a duo. Gwen signed a solo contract and began to have modest hits, so George became her manager. He was about to return to college to study law enforcement when he sang over Rock Your Baby.

KC and the Sunshine Band are mainly remembered these days for catchy disco anthems, great blasts of fun, but perhaps short on substance. With Rock Your Baby, they created something magnificent, entering unchartered territory by adding the sweet soul voice of McCrae to a drum machine with a holy melding of man and machine. I Feel Love is the most magnificent disco song, but without Rock Your Baby, would we have got there?

The keyboard melody at the start is almost nursery rhyme-like, setting the scene for a tender serenade in which a blissed-out McCrae surrenders to his love – which is pretty unusual for this time. He’s no alpha male, and is letting her take the lead. Smith’s choppy guitar line is vital, even if it sounds very similar to Rock the Boat. This would in time become one of the key ingredients to the disco sound.

Rock Your Baby is sexual, of course, but it’s sensual and seductive more than anything. Listen to the way McCrae’s falsetto glides over the rhythm in an aural orgasm, and it can move like few disco songs can. The six-minute-plus album version is superior as it lets the song stretch and breathe. To be honest, I could listen to an hour-long mix of this and not tire of it.

Rock Your Baby sold millions and was number 1 in the UK, US and across Europe. It inspired John Lennon’s Whatever Gets You Thru the Night and ABBA’s Dancing Queen. Not bad for a debut solo single. McCrae, the first black artist to top the UK charts in nearly two years, is considered a one-hit wonder, but he actually had other popular material. Follow-ups I Can’t Leave You Alone and You Can Have It All went number nine and 23 respectively later in the year, and in 1975, It’s Been So Long climbed to number four, and I Ain’t Lyin’ reached number 12.

Also in 1975, Gwen recorded a reply to Rock Your Baby, Rockin’ Chair, on which George provided backing vocals. The following year, he and Gwen divorced, and Honey I became his last UK charting single. We Did It! was his last album for some time in 1979, as he left TK Records and went into semi-retirement.

In the meantime, KC and the Sunshine Band became one of the biggest disco acts on the planet, with a string of floorfillers that encapsulated the genre’s positivity. They recorded Rock Your Baby too, but only as an instrumental. It wasn’t until 1983 that they scored a UK number 1, with the effervescent Give It Up.

McCrae surfaced again in 1984 with the album One Step Closer to Love, but it failed to chart. A remix of his number 1, known as the Frankfurst Mix, remixed by Paul Hardcastle, was released in 1986. He continued to make albums up until Do Something in 1996, then disappeared again, and has returned sporadically. He was part of Jools’ Annual Hootenanny in 2017. A cover of Rock Your Baby was a number eight hit for dance act KWS in 1992.

Written & produced by: Harry Wayne Casey & Richard Finch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 July-16 August)

Births:

Actress Emilia Fox – 31 July

Meanwhile…

15 August: The collapse of Court Line and its subsidiaries Clarksons and Horizon Holidays results in 100,000 holidaymakers stranded abroad.

310. Chicory Tip – Son of My Father (1972)

They may look like your average early-70s band, but it’s Kent rock group Chicory Tip who hold the honour of being the first chart-toppers whose single featured a synthesiser. Kraftwerk? It was another decade before they got to number 1. However, Son of My Father had been created by a true electronic music pioneer – the godlike genius, Giorgio Moroder.

Giovanni Giorgio Moroder, born 26 April 1940 in Urtijëi in South Tyrol, Italy, began releasing songs as ‘Giorgio’ after moving to Berlin, Germany in 1963. He moved to Munich in 1968 and two years later he scored his first big hit, the bubblegum pop track Looky Looky. Giorgio founded the renowned Musicland Studios, and took one Pete Bellotte under his wing.

Bellotte, from Barnet, Hertfordshire, had played guitar in beat group The Sinners, who teamed up with Linda Laine. While touring Germany, Bellotte befriended Reg Dwight, later Elton John, who was playing with Bluesology. Bellotte learnt German and had ambitions to become a songwriter. He and Giorgio were the perfect match, and in 1971, Bellotte wrote English lyrics for the Giorgio track Nachts scheint die Sonne, which translated as In the Night Shines the Sun (Michael Holm had penned the German lyrics). This catchy tale of a young man determined to break free of the conformity of his parents stood out due primarily to Giorgio’s use of a Moog synthesiser.

This legendary instrument, created by Dr Robert Moog in 1964, had first come to the attention of the mainstream courtesy of Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s album Switched-On Bach in 1968, the same year it began to be used by The Monkees. In 1969 it appeared on The Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road, and George Harrison performed a whole album, Electronic Sound, on the instrument, also released that year.

Giorgio knew he had a potential hit on his hands and he decided to make it the title track of his forthcoming album. But somehow, an advance copy of his next single found its way into the hands of Roger Easterby, manager of Chicory Tip.

The five-piece had formed in Maidstone in 1967, and consisted of singer Peter Hewson, guitarist Rick Foster, bassist Barry Mayger, drummer Brian Shearer and guitarist and keyboardist Rod Cloutt. Originally knows as The Sonics, Mayger had come up with the new name after seeing ‘chicory’ on the label of a coffee bottle.

After singing with CBS Records, Chicory Tip began releasing records in 1970 with Monday After Sunday, but failed to make an impression. Second single, I Love Onions, sounds like an interesting listen, though. They made it on to Top of the Pops with third single Excuse Me Baby in 1971, but again, fame eluded them.

Luckily, Easterby secured the band the option to rush record their own version of Giorgio’s next single. Chicory Tip recorded Son of My Father at George Martin’s Air Studios, and in another Beatles connection, the Moog in the song was played by engineer Chris Thomas, who had helped out on The Beatles and went on to become one of the UK’s greatest producers, working with David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, Sex Pistols and Pulp.

For such a historically important number 1, Son of My Father is a rather unassuming little song, but a decent one, and yes, that’s mainly down to that infectious Moog running through the track. And yet, this isn’t some brave new world we’re hearing – it’s no I Feel Love or Autobahn. It doesn’t make your jaw drop when you compare it to what had come before. Even the Musitron clavioline (a forerunner to the synthesiser) in Del Shannon’s Runaway stands out more. It seems to be there just to add colour to an otherwise standard pop-rock song, in much the same way The Beatles had used the instrument.

It’s a great fit though, that gleeful, impish sound conjuring up images of childhood, which of course ties in with the theme of the song. And more credit should be due to Bellotte., I’d always assumed Moroder came up with the lyrics to his music, but Bellotte is the unsung hero of the partnership, making Moroder’s material more palatable to English-speaking audiences.

Of course, it would help if you could actually decipher the lyrics in Chicory Tip’s version. They rushed the recording so much, Hewson didn’t have time to learn the words and appears to be making them up as he goes along. ‘Moulded, I was folded, I was preform-packed’, a nice comment on how society dictates the adult we grow up to be, became what sounds like ‘Moogling, I was googling, I was free from drugs’, as seen in an edition of BBC Two music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, here. So ironically, it’s easier to understand Giorgio’s version, which also features an understandably more polished production. Nonetheless, it’s an endearing number 1, and a glimpse into the world of electronic music that Moroder was so important in over the next decade.

The future looked bright for Chicory Tip at first, with What’s Your Name reaching the top 20 later that year, and Good Grief Christina in 1973. Interestingly, it was Moroder and Bellotte who penned these singles and more, but their fortune faded, and when IOU failed to hit the charts in 1973, they stopped working with the duo and tried hitmakers Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley on Take Your Time Caroline, but again, no joy. I’m sure the band wouldn’t have been amused at the fact they bowed out in 1975 with a song called Survivor. They left behind only one album, named after their number 1.

Other versions of Chicory Tip came and went until 1996 when Foster, Mayger and Shearer reformed the group without Hewson, who had to decline due to throat problems. He had released a solo single in 1983, Take My Hand, produced by another electro pioneer – Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure. Foster and Shearer still perform in a version of Chicory Tip, but Cloutt died in Australia in 2017.

Written by: Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte & Michael Holm

Producers: Roger Easterby & Des Champ

Weeks at number 1: 1 (19 February-10 March)

Births:

Footballer Malky Mackay – 19 February

Snooker player Terry Murphy – 6 March

Deaths:

Documentary film-maker John Grierson – 19 February

Meanwhile…

22 February: In retaliation for Bloody Sunday, The Official Irish Republican Army were responsible for the Aldershot Barracks bombing. which killed seven civilians and injured 19. It was the Official IRA’s largest attack during The Troubles, and due to the widespread criticism of the attack, they declared a permanent ceasefire in May. The Provisional IRA, however, were another matter entirely.

25 February: After seven weeks, the miners’ strike ended. Heath was to take them on again in 1974, but the move backfired.