“The feeling’s right, and the music’s tight, on the disco nights…” With the irresistible rhythms of 1979’s “Disco Nights (Rock Freak),” the members of GQ established themselves as premier artists at Arista Records and indeed of the disco generation. Between 1979 and 1981, the band notched seven successes on the U.S. R&B chart, with three crossing over to the Pop survey. All of those hits, and more, are collected on Big Break Records’ definitive new anthology Standing Ovation: The Story of GQ and The Rhythm Makers 1974-1982.
Standing Ovation is packed with the sleek, sinuous disco grooves for which GQ is still remembered, but also finds room for its share of surprises. The very welcome, expansive treatment is all the more unexpected here considering that GQ only released three albums for Arista. Disco Nights (1979), Two (1980) and Face to Face (1981) are all represented here, naturally, as is Soul on Your Side (1976) from the band’s pre-GQ iteration as The Rhythm Makers, plus various singles and rarities. Big Break’s collection handily bests all previous, less comprehensive GQ retrospectives.
Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Emanuel “Rahiem” LeBlanc (a.k.a. Mr. Q), bassist Keith “Sabu” Crier, drummer Kenny Banks and keyboardist Herb Lane had been playing together since the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the New York band began recording as The Rhythm Makers for De-Lite Records’ Vigor imprint. Six tracks from the band’s Vigor period, culled from both singles and the album Soul on Your Side, are collected on Standing Ovation including debut single “You’re Never Too Old (To Get on Down),” the chugging slab of funk “Touch,” the greasy instrumental “Zone” (with a strong a cappella opener) and the slinky album title track “Soul on Your Side.” The latter crosses the sound of Norman Whitfield-era Temptations with a spacey jazz-fusion excursion (with touches of flute throughout), underscoring the fact that The Rhythm Makers were still finding their own collective voice. “Prime Cut,” which opens the second disc of BBR’s collection as an overture of sorts, adds further flavor with strings.
Between the Vigor and Arista years, The Rhythm Makers changed drummers from Kenny Banks to Paul Service, whose kinetic style proved a better match for the group’s development to a smoother, more fluid disco style. Soon, at the behest of manager Tony Lopez, they changed their name, too – to the more urbane GQ, not just for the Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine, but also for Good Quality. Jimmy Simpson, who would ultimately produce all three of GQ’s Arista long-players, joined the team as co-producer with Beau Ray Fleming. The sizzling “Disco Nights (Rock Freak)” established GQ, topping the U.S. R&B chart and making No. 12 Pop/No. 3 Disco. BBR bookends its release with two versions of the song: the longer, 12-inch single mix as the opening cut and a Jimmy Simpson remix as the closing track.
Perhaps because of GQ’s relatively short life (just three albums from 1979-1981; the band would return with a 1984 single on the independent Stadium label and a tribute album to Marvin Gaye and Chicago soul man Billy Stewart in 1999), there’s real consistency to the 31 immaculately produced tracks here. The non-stop feel-good dance beats of “Standing Ovation” and “Shake” best define the GQ sound, but the band actually varied its sounds and musical textures on all three Arista albums. (Paul Service only stuck around the first two, with studio drummers filling his role on the third.)
Disco Nights took cues from Earth, Wind and Fire on “Wonderful” and “Spirit,” with the latter also having Stevie Wonder in its musical DNA. (“Spirit” flows seamlessly on this non-chronologically assembled compilation into The Rhythm Makers’ instrumental “Monterey.”) The debut also featured the gleaming, uptempo pop-soul of “Make My Dreams a Reality” and the pretty ballad “It’s Your Love,” boasting the rare occurrence of all four members on harmonies.
Though most of the songs recorded by GQ at Arista were originals, the band wasn’t averse to well-chosen covers. Disco Nights generated a No. 5 R&B/No. 20 Pop hit with a lightly updated take on Billy Stewart’s swooning “Do I Love You” so it’s no surprise that GQ returned to his songbook on GQ Two for “Sitting in the Park.” That, too, climbed the chart to No. 9 R&B though it stalled on the Pop countdown at No. 101. (The two tracks are felicitously sequenced back-to-back here by producer Wayne A. Dickson, followed by another throwback – Jay Wiggins and Lloyd Smith’s “Sad Girl,” probably best known in its rendition by Philadelphia’s Intruders – before Standing Ovation returns to the dancefloor with the brassy “Lies” off GQ Two.)
A rendition of A Taste of Honey’s 1978 smash “Boogie Oogie Oogie” joined “Do I Love You” on Disco Nights. The Janice Johnson/Perry Kibble tune had topped the Pop, Disco and R&B charts and was still fresh in listeners’ minds when GQ covered it. “Boogie,” a credible and faithful interpretation with thick and driving bass, is aired twice here: once in its Long Version and once in a Simpson remix. You’ll also hear a couple of songs written by Kenny Nolan (Bob Crewe’s collaborator on “My Eyes Adored You” and “Lady Marmalade”). Two of those Nolan tracks appear on Standing Ovation: the pulsating “I Love (The Skin You’re In)” and the slow jam “Dark Side of the Sun.” GQ wasn’t known for balladry, but silky tracks like “Dark Side” and the yearning “Don’t Stop This Feeling” confirm their excellence and all-around musical diversity.
GQ closed out the Arista years with “Try Smurfin’,” an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Peyo’s little blue creations (memorably rendered by Hanna-Barbera on a Saturday morning animated program). Thankfully, this electronics-infused dance track with Smurf voices doesn’t close Standing Ovation. Rather, the set concludes with a one-two-three punch of remixed versions of “Make My Dreams a Reality,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and “Disco Nights (Rock Freak).”
BBR’s typically excellent package, attractively housed in a double super jewel box, features Christian John Wikane’s detailed essay drawing on interviews with Mr. Q, Tony Lopez and Jimmy Simpson. Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks here for superior sound to previous GQ compilations. Make no doubt, the feeling’s right on this glistening collection.
- Disco Nights (Rock Freak) (Long Version)
- Standing Ovation (Long Version)
- Shake (Long Version)
- Try Smurfin’ (Long Version)
- Make My Dreams a Reality
- Is It Cool?
- You’ve Got the Floor
- I Love (The Skin You’re In)
- It’s Your Love
- GQ Down
- Boogie Oogie Oogie (Long Version)
- Soul On Your Side
- Prime Cut
- I Do Love You
- Sitting in the Park
- Sad Girl
- Shy Baby
- Don’t Stop This Feeling
- Dark Side of the Sun
- Someday (In Your Life)
- Reason for the Season (Long Version)
- You’re Never Too Old (To Get On Down)
- Make My Dreams a Reality (Remix)
- Boogie Oogie Oogie (Remix)
- Disco Nights (Rock Freak) (Remix)
Original versions of CD 1, Tracks 1, 6, 9, 13 & 15 and CD 2, Tracks 2, 6, 13-15 from Disco Nights, Arista AB-4225, 1979
Original versions of CD 1, Tracks 2, 7 & 14 and CD 2, Tracks 3, 5, 8, 10-11 from GQ Two, Arista AL-9511, 1980
Original versions of CD 1, Tracks 3, 8 & 12 and CD 2, Tracks 4, 7 & 9 from Face to Face, Arista AL-9547, 1981
CD 1, Tracks 4, 10 & 16 from The Rhythm Makers, Soul on Your Side, Vigor Records VI-7002, 1976
CD 1, Track 5 from Arista 12-inch single CP-724, 1982
CD 1, Track 11 by The Rhythm Makers, from Vigor single VI-1719, 1975
CD 2, Track 1 by The Rhythm Makers, from Vigor single VI-1726, 1976
CD 2, Track 12 by The Rhythm Makers, from Vigor single VI-1714, 1974