Big Break Goes Disco with KC and the Sunshine Band, George McCrae, Johnnie Taylor
The Temptations had sunshine on a rainy day, John Denver had it on his shoulders, and the O’Jays took their cue from an old standard to address a loved one as “my sunshine.” But Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, forming Miami’s KC and the Sunshine Band, had sunshine both in the band name and in the joyful, exultant brand of music they played. Big Break Records has recently reissued one title recorded by those disco titans, one title produced by them, and one with another connection to the genre. All three of BBR’s expanded editions will transport you to those heady days when the dance underground became the pop mainstream.
KC and the Sunshine Band’s 1976 long-player was simply and efficiently titled Part 3 (CDBBR 0817). As the title made explicit, the album wasn’t an attempt to redefine or expand the band’s sound. Instead, Part 3 continued the style the group of musicians had already established. After 1974’s unsuccessful Do It Good, Casey and Finch reinvented their group with a self-titled album in 1975 that asked listeners to “Get Down Tonight.” That was clearly the way listeners liked it (uh huh, uh huh), so Part 3, too, was all about the groove – and how it makes you move! With simplicity and clarity, KC and the Sunshine Band invited listeners to “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty.” And though the other seven selections on the album would inevitably fall in the shadow of that No. 1 Pop and R&B hit, this new reissue proves the album is an upbeat delight from start to finish.
In the fine and detailed liner notes from J. Matthew Cobb (who supplies the essays for all three titles reviewed here), Harry Wayne Casey reveals “Shake, Shake, Shake” as an ode to self-empowerment and to fearlessness of doing your own thing. Of course, that unbridled freedom was a major part of the disco identity at its roots, and few groups expressed personal liberation with more vitality than KC and the Sunshine Band. Cobb’s essay also frankly discusses the implications of Casey and Finch, two Caucasian men, making such an impact in disco, and the feelings from some quarters that they had somehow co-opted black music. This probing discussion gives a subtext to the listening experience that can’t be overestimated. Still, Part 3 is a sunny, ready-to-party record, as evidenced by that significant rainbow on the front of the album artwork.
The album’s other major hit, “I’m Your Boogie Man,” followed “Booty” to No. 1 Pop (and No. 3 R&B). And if it’s not as stone-cold a classic, it has all the hallmarks of KC’s disco-funk-pop perfection. “Let’s Go Party” could be the band’s mantra, and the funk is ladled on this tight track, too. It’s certainly not excessive, at under three minutes’ length, but is a reminder that KC and co. were deft musicians far more than “just” a disco band. Casey and Finch’s production hallmarks extend to the lesser-known tracks; “Baby I Love You (Yes I Do)” was only released on 45 as a flip, but it could have been an A-side, with its (likely intentional) echoes of “That’s the Way I Like It.” It’s difficult to discern any deeper meaning to “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” (“Come on, come on!”) with its shrieks and wails of pleasure, but it’s likely you’ll want to join in. “I Like to Do It” is another simple but insistent affirmation with bold horns, its melody set to the familiar KC percolating dance groove: to boogie down all night long, to shake it up, all “with you.” The album-closing “Keep It Comin’ Love” is another sexy pop confection with an irresistible hook (“Don’t stop it now, don’t stop it now”).
BBR has added two bonus tracks, the single versions of “Boogie Man” and “Keep It Comin’ Love,” to Part 3. (Singles were also released for “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty,” of course, as well as “I Like to Do It” and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me.”) KC and the Sunshine Band’s disco hits are still staples of oldies radio today, but this full-service reissue makes the experience of listening to the band’s music a more immediate, and ultimately more fulfilling, one.
Hit the jump for the scoop on the latest reissues from George McCrae and Johnnie Taylor!
Casey and Finch were unafraid to spread the wealth. Having and produced “Rock Your Baby” for their fellow Floridian George McCrae, the duo did the honors once more for the singer’s sophomore album. George McCrae (CDBBR 0191), the mid-1975 follow-up to the “Rock Your Baby” single and album, featured production from Casey and Finch, with all of its music tracks laid down by KC and the Sunshine Band.
Though Rock Your Baby can be rightfully credited as one of the records that sparked the entire disco era, George McCrae is very much pop in an R&B vein (or vice versa?), with songwriter-producers Casey and Finch supplying a different set of songs than they would have for a Sunshine Band album. Sure, there are some similarities – on “I Ain’t Lying,” the funk is leavened by bright and breezy horns plus a perpetually shaking tambourine. But George McCrae is a more musically diverse album than the band’s later Part 3, with the singer’s smiling visage on the cover artwork a hint to the sweet sounds contained within. As producers, Finch and Casey tailored the nine tracks to McCrae’s strengths as a vocalist: a deep well of emotion and a silky voice that could go stratospheric.
Much as “Baby I Love You (Yes I Do)” on Part 3 echoed “That’s the Way I Like It,” “Honey, I’ll Live My Life for You” on George McCrae has sonic similarities to “Rock Your Baby.” Unlike its predecessor, however, the ringing disco percussion is accentuated with a female trio soulfully singing along. Anchored by Casey’s keyboard and enhanced by the female vocalists known under the group moniker of Fire, the bouncy “Take This Love of Mine” (and “spread it all around you”) shares the same hallmarks of positivity as many of the tracks on Part 3.
Thick, prominent drums ground “It’s Been So Long,” with McCrae’s smooth and soulful vocals caressing each lyric (“It’s been so long/Since I’ve seen you/Come over, darling”). Each “darlin’,” “baby” and “honey” is prelude to his trademark falsetto wail, while the background vocalists’ pleas to “Come over, darling” lend an incredibly sultry air. “When I First Saw You” begins with a more laid-back vibe, but becomes one of the album’s lustiest tracks. Its breathy, spoken rap oozes with soul and finally a climactic shriek as only McCrae could deliver. “You Got to Know” offers twangy guitar over gospel-ish chords (“You got to know/That I’m in love with you!”), but is simply a sweet, upbeat pop tune (“Say yeah, yeah, yeah”).
One single has been added to the relatively short album, the single version of “Honey I (I’ll Live My Life for You).” The album’s first single A-side, “I Ain’t Lyin’,” hasn’t been included. Though there’s nothing as singular or genre-defining as “Rock Your Baby” here, fans of that song should give this less-heralded sequel a chance. Cobb’s liner notes draw on a spirited conversation with McCrae.
“Girl, you ought to be on TV, on Soul Train,” intones Johnnie Taylor on his No. 1 single “Disco Lady,” the first track on 1976’s Eargasm (CDBBR 0186). Taylor is unrelenting in the driving, memorable tune (“Move it in, move it out, move it ‘round about, disco lady” or, shades of KC, “Shake it up, shake it down”) but the forceful approach of the tune composed by five writers including producer Don Davis and arranger David Van De Pitte (Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On) paid off. “Disco Lady” spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and six weeks at No. 1 R&B, earning the first-ever platinum record certification. Taylor, a veteran recording artist equally at home with blues, soul and gospel, insisted that salaciousness was nowhere near his mind when crooning the provocatively saucy lyrics, but the innuendo was potent. (Actress/singer Telma Hopkins of Tony Orlando and Dawn was his female vocal foil in the song.) Capturing the zeitgeist, “Disco Lady” caught on (to put it mildly) and reignited Taylor’s already impressive career.
When his previous label home of Stax folded, Taylor comfortably slid over to its distributor, CBS, and to Columbia label. Don Davis had guided Taylor’s Stax hits, and served as producer for Eargasm. Its most famous song notwithstanding, there isn’t much disco on Eargasm. But there’s drama and bold production in abundance, even if the album’s other eight tracks aren’t as distinct as that one famous song.
Those looking for danceable beats might cotton to “Don’t Touch Her Body (If You Can’t Touch Her Mind),” which has the strings, the sweep and effortless rhythm associated with disco. “It Don’t Hurt Me Like It Used To” is likewise in this high-energy vein. For “You’re the Best in the World” (“when it comes to making love”), Davis’ big, bright production makes room for a joyous saxophone interlude by Eli Fountain. Those omnipresent strings give the song and much of the album both class and gloss. Though partially recorded at renowned southern soul home Muscle Shoals, there’s not much grit on Eargasm, but plenty of soul.
Taylor’s rough-hewn, bluesy tones offset the mellow vibe of “Please Don’t Stop (That Song from Playing).” The slow burn is also present on “I’m Gonna Keep on Loving You,” with its burbling track and Philly-style strings. Taylor adds, “Listen to me, honey” or “See, honey?” offhandedly as he smooth-talks his baby (“There are times I can’t see your charms/But it all comes back/When I hold you tightly in my arms”) in the Davis/Van DePitte/Richard Morris/Carl Austin song. The album’s most dramatic production is “Running Out of Lies” with its spoken rap, but “Somebody’s Gettin’ It” is a close second. Dark, funky guitars and greasy brass complement Taylor’s accusatory vocal. Most interestingly, Davis revisits Carla Thomas’ hit, the Stax staple “Pick Up the Pieces,” in a modernized version that’s aged well.
Three bonus tracks grace Big Break’s reissue including, of course, the extended 7+-minute disco version of “Disco Lady.” It’s joined by the instrumental of “Somebody’s Gettin’ It” and the single edit of “Disco Lady.” Though Johnnie Taylor passed away in 2000, Don Davis contributes to Cobb’s excellent notes. All three albums have been remastered; Nick Robbins has handled Part 3 and George McCrae, and reissue producer Wayne Dickson has overseen Eargasm. Soul and R&B come in many, many forms, and all three of these exemplary reissues explore the disco spectrum. Get down tonight!
KC and the Sunshine Band, Part 3 (TK Records 605, 1976 – reissued BBR CDBBR 0187, 2012)
- Baby I Love You (Yes I Do)
- Wrap Your Arms Around Me
- I Like to Do It
- (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty
- Let’s Go Party
- Come On In
- I’m Your Boogie Man
- Keep It Comin’ Love
- I’m Your Boogie Man (Single Version) (TK single 1022, 1977)
- Keep It Comin’ Love (Single Version) (TK single 1023, 1977)
George McCrae, George McCrae (TK Records 602, 1975 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0191, 2012)
- Baby Baby Sweet Baby
- You Treat Me Good
- I Ain’t Lying
- You Got to Know
- It’s Been So Long
- Honey I (I’ll Live My Life for You)
- Take This Love of Mine
- When I First See You
- Sing a Happy Song
- Honey I (I’ll Live My Life for You) (Single Version) (TK single 1016, 1976)
Johnnie Taylor, Eargasm (Columbia PC 33951, 1976 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0186, 2012)
- Disco Lady
- Please Don’t Stop (That Song From Playing)
- Don’t Touch Her Body (If You Can’t Touch Her Mind)
- I’m Gonna Keep On Loving You
- You’re The Best Girl in the World
- Running Out of Love
- Somebody’s Gettin’ It
- It Don’t Hurt Me Like It Used To
- Pick Up the Pieces
- Disco Lady (Extended Disco Version)
- Somebody’s Gettin’ It (Instrumental)
- Disco Lady (Single Version) (Columbia 10281, 1976)