On this day in music history: October 15, 1991 – “Fruits Of Nature”, the debut album by The UMC’s is released. Produced by RNS, Hass G., Shlomo Sonnenfeld and Young Technique, it is recorded at Such A Sound Studio in Brooklyn, NY from Late 1990 – Mid 1991. Putting the NYC borough of Staten Island on the map even before The Wu Tang Clan, the duo consists of Hass G. (Carlos Evans) and Kool Kim (Kim Sharpton). Both have been rapping since their pre-teens, that are honed to a sharp edge by the time they are signed to Wild Pitch Records. Possessing the gifts of writing smart and colorful rhymes filled with metaphors and pop cultural references, backed by solid, funky beats drawing from classic R&B, funk and jazz, without using the same old overused samples. The first taste of UMC’s unique sound comes in the early Fall of 1991 with the release of their debut single “Blue Cheese” (#1 Rap). The title “blue cheese” is a clever dis pointed at “cheesy rodent MC’s” and calling them out for their weak rhyming skills and not being true to the music and culture. Even cooler still is the track itself, featuring a sped up sample of the R&B group Delegation’s 1979 hit “Oh Honey” augmented with samples taken from Solomon Burke’s 1968 single “Get Out Of My Life Woman”. Infectious and razor sharp, the single flies to the top of the rap singles chart, paving the way for the rest of the album. For the follow up, The UMC’s pull another extremely cool and unlikely rabbit out of their hat with the follow up single “One To Grow On” (#2 Rap). The song summarizes their modus operandi and philosophy with lyrics like: “I frame my method; my method is apparent, I see clearly this world’s transparent. So I reach down deep, deliver salvation to the hands of the weak”. The main body of “One To Grow On” is sampled from jazz trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s song “Good Humor Man”, with the breakdown sampling comedian Bill Cosby’s funky “Ursalena” from his second non-stand up vocal album “Hooray For The Salvation Army Band!”. By the time that second single is released, the formerly independent Wild Pitch Records is picked up for distribution by EMI Records. “Fruits” spins off a third single with “Never Never Land”. The album becomes a major favorite within the Hip Hop community, and is regarded as one of the best “golden era” of Hip Hop during the 90’s. In spite of this, The UMC’s time in the spotlight is brief, when their second release “Unleashed” in 1994 produces no hits and sells poorly. The duo split shortly afterward, but move on with their music careers. Haas G. becomes a successful producer, working with major rap artists including 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and Ghostface Killah. Kool Kim records as a solo under the moniker NYOIL. Falling out of print for a time, The UMC’s classic debut album is reissued on CD through UMe’s Fontana Distribution in 2008. “Fruits Of Nature” peaks at number thirty two on the Billboard R&B album chart.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1988 – “Red Red Wine” by UB40 hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Neil Diamond, it is the first US chart topper for the reggae/pop fusion band from Birmingham, UK. Formed in 1978, the band UB40 takes their name from the document form that recipients must fill out to receive unemployment benefits. The band is led by brothers Robin (guitar, vocals) and Ali (Alistair Ian) Campbell (lead vocals, guitar), with Earl Falconer (bass), Jimmy Brown (drums), Mickey Virtue (keyboards), Brian Travers (saxophone), and Astro (born Terence Brown) (trumpet, vocals). UB40 receive their big break in 1980 when Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sees them performing at a pub in London, offering them the opening act spot on her bands first major tour of the UK. The exposure heightens their profile significantly, leading to a record deal with indie label Graduate Records before forming their own label DEP International Records (distributed by Virgin Records). After three successful albums containing original material, UB40 record the album “Labour Of Love” in 1983. “Love” consists of cover versions of the bands favorite reggae, ska and dub songs recorded by artists the members grew up loving like The Melodians, Jimmy Cliff, The Slickers, and Bob Marley. A major favorite of the band is “Red Red Wine”, recorded by Jamaican singer Tony Tribe in 1969. His version is a minor hit in the UK, peaking at #45 on the UK singles chart. Tragically, Tribe’s career is cut short when he is killed in a car accident in Canada in 1970. When UB40 covers “Red Red Wine”, they are unaware that the song is a cover, and was written and recorded by Neil Diamond in 1968. UB40’s version is a huge hit throughout much of the world, hitting number one on the UK singles chart for three weeks in September of 1983. With reggae only enjoying a cult following in the US, the record is only a minor hit Stateside, initially peaking at #34 on the Hot 100 in March of 1984. Fast forward ahead four years later, and UB40 releases their self-titled eighth album which is another hit worldwide, but only makes a modest showing in the US. Program director Guy Zapoleon at KZZP in Phoenix, AZ revives the nearly five year old “Red Red Wine” by placing it in heavy rotation when the station begins receiving heavy listener requests for the song. Zapoleon contacts UB40’s US label A&M Records to convince them to reissue the record. In the midst of promoting their latest album, they initially ignore Zapoleon’s request, until other stations begin adding “Wine” their playlists. Finally, A&M re-releases “Red Red Wine” in July of 1988. Re-entering the Hot 100 at #85 on August 13, 1988, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. The belated success of “Red Red Wine” in the US also drives the album “Labor Of Love” into the top twenty on the Top 200, going Double Platinum. “Red Red Wine” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
Pam Grier and Freddie Prinze at the 1975 NAACP Image Awards
Pam Grier: “We spent a lot of time talking about our dreams, where we had come from, and where we wanted to go. Freddie was Puerto Rican and Hungarian, and he turned to me to be one of his mentors in his life. I took the job willingly, entranced with his romanticism and his passion for life. I loved that Freddie constantly told me how beautiful I was, asked me questions, and actually listened to the answers. He may have been chronologically younger than I was, but he often showed a maturity beyond his years. When we finally became lovers, we were truly in love, deeply affectionate, and eager to support each other any way we could.”
In her book Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, Pam details how Freddie was persistent in trying to get her pregnant but she didn’t want to bring a child into the world with him being unstable. He suffered from depression and as his drug abuse worsened she broke up with him.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1987 – “Top Billin’” by Audio Two is released. Written by Kirk Robinson and Nat Robinson, it is the debut single for the Hip Hop duo from Brooklyn, NY. Formed in 1985 by brothers Kirk “Milk Dee” Robinson (MC) and Nat “Gizmo” Robinson (DJ), the Audio Two splinter off into a duo after the demise of their former group the Awesome Foursome. In 1987, Milk and Giz’s father Nat Sr. establishes First Priority Music to release music recorded by his sons. The pair connect with Daddy-O of Stetsasonic to work on their first single. The first track, the proto-new jack swing flavored “Make It Funky” sampling the James Brown classic of the same name is the original designated A-side. However, when it’s released in the Fall of 1987, the flip side is the one that winds up going the distance. That B-side titled “Top Billin’” features a chopped up sample of the drums from the classic Hip Hop staple “Impeach The President” by The Honeydrippers along with Stetsasonic’s “Go Stetsa I”. The skeletal and propulsive back beat topped by Milk Dee’s well measured verses extolling his rhyming skills and way with the ladies, and his brother Giz’s prowess on the wheels of steel. All of this along with the insistent refrain of “Milk is chillin’, Giz is chillin’, What more can I say? Top billin’”, make song an instant classic in under three minutes. “Top Billin’” quickly becomes an underground smash in the duo’s hometown of New York City, and goes overground with rapid speed. Its popularity is such that it attracts the attention of Atlantic Records, which offers to not only sign the Audio Two, but take over distribution of First Priority Music. The single is re-released by Atlantic, with remixes by Teddy Ted of the Awesome Two. The brothers follow it with their debut album “What More Can I Say?” in May of 1988. The album and follow up singles “I Don’t Care”, “Hickeys Around My Neck” and “Many Styles” are only modest hits. Audio Two release their second album “I Don’t Care – The Album” in 1990, but fails to recapture the success of their debut. They record a third album titled “First Dead Indian” in 1992, which is shelved. As a result, Audio Two call it quits after cutting ties with Atlantic. In spite of the duo’s demise, “Top Billin’” takes on a life of its own as a Hip Hop cornerstone during the 90’s and beyond. The drum track from the song is sampled as the basis for R&B singer Mary J. Blige’s smash “Real Love” in 1992, raising the profile of the Hip Hop classic once again. Atlantic Records responds by commissioning new remixes of “Top Billin’” by DJ Clark Kent and Sean Wan (b/w the original 1987 recording), which are released as a 12" single. Over the years, “Billin’” is sampled by numerous artists in rap and R&B music including The Luniz, The Notorious B.I.G., 50 Cent, Jay-Z & Kanye West, 2Pac, Das EFX, Jeru The Damaja, MC Lyte, Ne-Yo, Fergie, Usher, and R. Kelly among them.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1984 – “Valotte”, the debut album by Julian Lennon is released. Produced by Phil Ramone, it is recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, AL, Beartracks Recording Studio in Suffern, NY, A&R Studios, Clinton Recording Studios, and The Hit Factory in New York City from February – August 1984. The first album from the eldest son of rock icon John Lennon, the then twenty one year old singer, songwriter, and musician works with veteran producer and engineer Phil Ramone (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Chicago), with Lennon writing or co-writing nearly all of the songs himself. The album features a number of notable guest musicians including The Muscle Shoal Rhythm Section (Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass), and Roger Hawkins (drums)), Ralph MacDonald (percussion), Marcus Miller, Carmine Rojas (bass), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Jon Faddis (trumpet), Martin Briley (guitar) and Jean “Toots” Thielemans (harmonica). Listeners and critics are immediately taken with the younger Lennon whose singing voice and physical presence bares more than a passing resemblance to his late father, and with the quality of the material on his first recording effort. It spins off four singles including “Too Late For Goodbyes” (#5 Pop), “Say You’re Wrong” (#21 Pop) and the title track (#9 Pop). “Valotte” peaks at number seventeen on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1983 – “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #22 on the Hot 100 on December 3, 1983. Written by David “Hawk” Wolinski, it is the fifth and final chart topper for the veteran R&B band fronted by lead singer Chaka Khan. Originally a member of the Chicago based garage band Shadows Of Knight (“Gloria”), Wolinski joins Rufus as a second keyboardist in 1978, after working as a side musician for Minnie Riperton. He quickly becomes a major creative force within the band, writing (or co-writing) several hits including “Hollywood”, “Everlasting Love”, “Street Player”, “Any Love” and the chart topping “Do You Love What You Feel”. He comes up with the initial idea for “Ain’t Nobody” in 1982 while working with musician Michael Sembello. The song had been considered for inclusion on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album when the songwriter offers it to Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones. Rufus’ producer Russ Titelman convinces Wolinski to hold on to the song. Rufus records it with Chaka Khan as one of four new studio recordings on their final album “Stompin’ At The Savoy”. Another unique characteristic of the record is its drum pattern, played both by drummer John Robinson (live drums) and by keyboardist Wolinski on a Linn LM-1 drum machine. Not wanting to play it with a straight 4/4 time signature, the pair create the songs’ distinctive syncopated rhythm. “Ain’t Nobody” earns Rufus their second Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals in 1984. The song is also featured prominently in the film and on the soundtrack of “Breakin’” in 1984.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1978 – “Toto”, the debut album by Toto is released. Produced by Toto, it is recorded at Studio 55, Sunset Sound in Hollywood, CA, and Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA from May – September 1978. Having previously established themselves as prominent LA studio musicians for the likes of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Seals & Crofts and Sonny & Cher (to name a few), the band are signed to Columbia Records in early 1978. Rock critics react negatively to their first effort calling them “faceless” and “formulaic”, but does not affect public opinion, who love the record from the outset. It spins off three singles including their first top 10 hit “Hold The Line” (#5 Pop), with Toto also scoring a surprise reverse crossover hit with “Georgy Porgy” (#48 Pop, #18 R&B), when the single becomes an airplay favorite on black radio stations and in clubs due in part to it featuring background vocals by singer Cheryl Lynn (several members of Toto played on her debut album and was co-produced by David Paich). The album also earns Toto a Grammy Nomination for Best New Artist in 1979. In 1991, rapper MC Lyte samples the track for her hit single “Poor Georgie”. The album is remastered and reissued on CD by Culture Factory Records in 2014. It is also previously reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Music On Vinyl in 2011, and by Friday Music in 2012. “Toto” peaks at number nine on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1970 – “Jackson 5 Christmas Album”, the fourth album by The Jackson 5 is released. Produced by The Corporation, it is recorded at The Sound Factory and Hitsville USA West Studios in Hollywood, CA from July – September 1970. The groups first and only holiday album, it is The Jackson 5’s fourth full length LP release of the year, issued only five weeks after “Third Album”. The collection quickly becomes a perennial favorite during the Christmas holiday season with their versions of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” becoming two of the most requested Christmas songs played on radio. The album tops the annual Christmas albums chart published by Billboard Magazine in 1970, but not on the main Top 200 or R&B album charts due to Billboard’s then policy of not including seasonal holiday albums or singles on their main charts. The album returns to the top again in 1972, charting a total of six times over the years. Originally released on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2001 under the title “The Best Of The Jackson 5 – 20th Century Masters The Christmas Collection”, with the previously unreleased “Little Christmas Tree” added as a bonus track. The “Jackson 5 Christmas Album” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard Christmas Albums chart, going Platinum in the US, and selling over three and a half million copies worldwide.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White is released. Written by Tony Joe White, it is the seventh single release and biggest hit for the singer and songwriter from Oak Grove, LA. The youngest of seven children, Tony Joe White begins performing in the early 60’s, making a living playing clubs. In 1967, White relocates to Nashville to land a record deal. Originally the home of Roy Orbison and other legends including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Ray Stevens, Monument Records signs White. He works with producers including Stevens and Dan Penn, but are unable to get a hit on him. White is paired up with label mate Billy Swan (“I Can Help”) to produce him. During this time, White reaches back to his roots to write a new song. Inspired by Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe”, he spins a tale about a poor young girl, whose family harvests a type of greens called pokeweed or “polk sallet”, that grow wild in the swamp lands. Similar to a turnip green and tasting a bit like spinach when cooked, many poor families subsisted on them (which had to be cooked since they were potentially poisonous if consumed raw) when there was nothing else to eat. White and Swan cut the song titled “Polk Salad Annie” at RCA Victor Studio B in Nashville, TN on May 16, 1968. It features musicians Norbert Putnam (bass), Jerry Carrigan (drums), David Briggs (organ) and White himself (vocals, guitar, harmonica). It’s released as a single in the Fall of 1968, to virtually no response. Undaunted, White returns to the road to promote it. While performing in Texas, “Annie” gets a big response from audiences who begin clamoring for the record. Having written it off as a failure, Monument begins sending White promo copies to sell at shows, when the meager supply of stock copies run out. The musician has to black out the “Disc Jockey – Not For Sale” text on the label with a marker, in order to supply local record stores with stock to sell. This continues for several months as “Polk Salad Annie” grows in popularity through the south. It seems like it will remain a regional hit only, when a radio station in Los Angeles begins playing it in the late Spring of 1969. From there, it goes national. Finally entering the Hot 100 at #86 on July 5, 1969, it peaks at #8 seven weeks later on August 23, 1969 over ten months after its released. Though it is his only major pop hit, “Polk Salad Annie” firmly establishes Tony Joe White as one of the main purveyors of “swamp rock”. It is covered by a wide variety of artists including Elvis Presley, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Clarence Reid (aka “Blowfly”) and Tom Jones. That same year, R&B singer Brook Benton lands a smash with the White penned “Rainy Night In Georgia”, and is also widely covered by other artists. Years later, Tony Joe re-records “Polk Salad Annie” for a television commercial for McDonald’s, advertising the chains’ McRib sandwich.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1968 – “Promises, Promises” by Dionne Warwick is released. Written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it is the twenty-second single release for the pop and R&B vocalist from East Orange, NJ. Writing more than dozen top 40 hits for singer Dionne Warwick since making her debut in late 1962 with “Don’t Make Me Over”, songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David turn their creative energies to the Great White Way in 1967. Collaborating with playwright Neil Simon, whose successful works at that point include “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot In The Park”, Bacharach and David are hired by producer David Merrick (“I Can Get It For You Wholesale”, “Stop The World – I Want To Get Off”, “Hello, Dolly!”) to write the music and lyrics for Simon’s stage adaptation of the Oscar winning film “The Apartment”. Titled “Promises, Promises”, the musical stars Jerry Orbach (“Law And Order”, “Beauty & The Beast”, “Chicago”) and Jill O’Hara playing the roles originated by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the original Billy Wilder directed film. Before the original cast album is recorded, Burt and Hal have their musical muse Dionne Warwick record the song first, mainly as a guide for Jerry Orbach who sings the song in the show. The title song’s narrative has to do with “false promises” made by its protagonist, and the pressure they put on themselves to keep their word, but often falling short of that promise. The harmonically and structurally complex composition features numerous jumps in octaves and time signatures, moving from ¾ time, to 6/8 time to 4/4 time all in the course of three minutes. Featuring chord changes that are more akin to jazz than the average pop song of the day, the song proves to be difficult for many to sing. But Warwick takes it all in stride when it comes time to record her vocals. The track is recorded at A&R Studios in New York City in the late Summer of 1968, engineered by studio owner and future superstar producer Phil Ramone. The title track from her eleventh album, it released as a single in the Fall, and quickly becomes Dionne Warwick’s sixteenth Top 40 pop single, peaking at #19 on the Hot 100 on December 7, 1968, #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #47 on the R&B chart. One other song from the musical, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” (#6 Pop, #17 R&B, #1 AC) also becomes major hit for Warwick in early 1970. The musical makes its debut on Broadway at the Shubert Theater on December 1, 1968 and is an immediate hit, running for 1,281 performances over the next four years, and winning a Grammy Award for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album in 1970. The show has run consistently over the years, and is revived on Broadway in 2010 with Sean Hayes (“Will And Grace”, “Cats And Dogs”) and Kristen Chenoweth (“Wicked”, “The West Wing”) in the lead roles.