On this day in music history: September 6, 1980 – “Upside Down” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 4 weeks on August 16, 1980. Written and produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it is the fifth solo chart topper for the Motown superstar. When producers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers sign on to work with Diana Ross, they meet the singer at her apartment in New York City. During the several hours they talk to her, she speaks of wanting her record to sound like nothing she’s done before, wanting to make a break with her past both musically and personally. Edwards and Rodgers leave the meeting inspired, and quickly write an entire albums’ worth of material for Ross. Originally titled “The Work Song”, “Upside Down” is inspired by their conversation, being about a woman who is deeply in love with a man who she’s aware isn’t faithful to her, but can’t let go of him. The song is rumored to be about either actor Ryan O’Neal or musician Gene Simmons of the band KISS, both of whom Ross had dated during this period. One of the first tracks recorded for the “diana” album, the basic track and vocals for “Upside Down” are recorded in November of 1979. When the album is released in May of 1980, initially “I’m Coming Out” (#5 Pop, #6 R&B) is chosen to be the first single, but Motown abruptly cancels its release (issuing it as the second single on August 22, 1980) and issues “Upside Down” instead on June 25, 1980. Entering the Hot 100 at #82 on July 12, 1980, the record at first struggles up the chart, taking a month to crack the Top 50. Then on August 9, 1980, the record suddenly pole vaults from #49 to #10 in a single week. Four weeks after that, it makes its final ascent to the top the chart. The funky, groove laden “Upside Down” becomes one of Diana Ross’ biggest and most enduring hits, earning her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female in 1981. In 1997, the song is sampled as the basis for the remix version of MC Lyte’s hit “Cold Rock A Party”. “Upside Down” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 5, 1974 – “Dancing Machine”, the eighth album by The Jackson 5ive is released. Produced by Hal Davis, it is recorded at Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA from April – May 1973, June 1973 – July 1974. The album includes the smash title track (#1 R&B, #2 Pop), and spins off two other singles, including “Whatever You Got, I Want” (#38 Pop, #3 R&B) and “I Am Love” (#5 R&B, #15 Pop). The title track “Dancing Machine” originates on the groups previous album “Get It Together” but is remixed and edited when it becomes a popular LP cut, and is later released as a single. The albums third single “I Am Love” also receives significant play in clubs at the time of its release. The simmering seven and a half minute long track features a slow almost ballad like intro for the first half of the song, before exploding into an uptempo funk/rock groove, which creates a sensation on the dance floor. In time, “Love” is regarded as a seminal track in the genre of what becomes known as “proto-disco”. The success of the album pulls the group out of the slump they experienced during the previous two years, though it makes them hungry to take more creative control of their music and career, resulting in their exit from Motown in 1975 for Epic Records.“Dancing Machine” peaks at number sixteen on the Billboard Top 200, though oddly does not chart on the R&B album chart.
On this day in music history: September 3, 1983 – “Cold Blooded” by Rick James hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #40 on the Hot 100 on September 24, 1983. Written and produced by Rick James, it is the third R&B chart topper for the “King Of Punk Funk”. The innovative, minimalist funk track (featuring James on all instruments and vocals) is inspired by James’ then girlfriend, actress Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”). Blair is actually in the studio with James when he begins writing it. As she watches him work, she expresses to him a desire to learn how to play and write music. Putting his hands on a synthesizer, he begins improvising, coming up with the songs main riff right on the spot. “Cold Blooded” is distinctively different from his earlier material which was mainly written on either guitar or bass. The track features mainly synthesizers and a Roland TR-808 drum machine (inspired in part by friend Marvin Gaye’s recent hit “Sexual Healing”), augmented with electric bass. The first single and title track from his seventh album, it quickly becomes a hit on R&B radio and on the dance floor. “Cold Blooded” is Rick James last major hit for Motown before leaving the company in 1986.
On this day in music history: August 30, 1977 – “Barry White Sings For Someone You Love”, the seventh album by Barry White is released. Produced by Barry White, it is recorded at Whitney Studios in Glendale, CA from April – May 1977. Enjoying a prolific hit streak that by the mid 70’s includes nine top ten singles on the R&B chart, including four of them hitting number one, Barry White shows few signs of that pace slowing down. Though by 1976, the non stop pace begins to take its toll. As well as recording projects under his own name, Barry is also writing and producing for Love Unlimited and instrumental albums with the Love Unlimited Orchestra. The strain begins to show when White’s albums “Let The Music Play” and “Is This Whatcha Wont?” both fail to go Gold after scoring six million selling albums in under four years. For his seventh solo album, The Maestro turns to material from outside writers and collaborating with protege Danny Pearson and songwriter Vance Wilson. As on previous albums, White is backed by the Love Unlimited Orchestra recording at his favorite studio, Whitney Studios in the San Fernando Valley. Any talk of a slump in Barry White’s hit making prowess is quickly silenced with the release of the first single “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me” (#1 R&B, #4 Pop) in July of 1977. The simmering, pulsating track featuring White’s sultry bass baritone voice front and center, becomes an instant classic and one of the biggest hits of his career. It is followed by the equally sexy “Playing Your Game, Baby” (#8 R&B, #101 Pop) and “Oh What A Night For Dancing” (#13 R&B, #24 Pop). The sexy vibe of the album is also extended to the LP’s cover artwork, which features a photo of a fur with a locket pendant draped over it, and the artist name and title written in elegant graphic style. The Ivy Duo-Pak gatefold sleeve which must be opened to pull the record out from the inside, comes in two different variations. The first features a light colored fur with a solid locket on the front cover. The second has a dark colored fur with the pendant having a die cut center when punched out, reveals a small photo of White also visible inside. Though the album restores “The Maestro” to the top of the charts, after the follow up release “The Man” in 1978, the late 70’s sees the musician’s commercial fortunes wane dramatically, until making a major comeback in 1995 with “The Icon Is Love”. Long out of print in any form since the early 80’s, “Barry White Sings For Someone You Love” is finally remastered and reissued, making its CD debut in 1996. “Barry White Sings For Someone You Love” spends four weeks at number one (non-consecutive) on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number eight on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: August 29, 1979 – “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” by Fatback is released. Written by Fred Demery and Bill Curtis, it is the seventeenth single by the R&B/Funk band from New York City. Formed in 1970 by drummer Bill Curtis, The Fatback Band take their name from term “fatback” used to describe the heavy back beat of New Orleans jazz. The band move more toward a straight ahead R&B/Funk sound and away from their jazz roots. Fatback scores hits with the disco classics “(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop” and “(Do The) Spanish Hustle”, they officially shorten their name from to Fatback in 1977.. After scoring their first R&B top ten hit with funky “I Like Girls” (#9 R&B) in 1978, they follow it with “Freak The Freak The Funk (Rock)” (#36 R&B). In the Summer of 1979, Fatback releases “You’re My Candy Sweet”. The mid tempo dance single initially draws little attention and peters out at #67 on the Billboard R&B singles chart on September 22, 1979. While it is crawling up the chart, radio and club DJ’s discover the track hidden on the B-side. In the late 70’s, with Hip Hop culture still very much an underground phenomenon out of its birthplace of the South Bronx, the art of MC’s (Master of Ceremonies) improvising rap verses over R&B, funk and disco breaks is largely unknown to the general population. “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” features radio DJ Tim Washington rapping over Fatback’s chunky, driving backing track, supported by the band chanting the provocative phrase “Do it to me, and I’ll do it to you” in between the verses. Washington’s raps follow the tradition of R&B radio DJ pioneers like Jack “The Rapper” Gibson, Rufus Thomas and Douglas “Jocko” Henderson who often rapped between records while on the air. The reaction from music fans is swift, prompting Spring Records to quickly reverse the sides of the single. “King Tim III” hits the airwaves only two and a half weeks before The Sugarhill Gang’s landmark single “Rapper’s Delight”. The Fatback single enters the R&B singles chart at #88 on October 6, 1979, peaking at #26 on November 17, 1979. Though it does not have the same commercial impact, and is largely overshadowed by “Rapper’s Delight”, in time, “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” is acknowledged by music historians as the first commercially released rap record. Over the years, the song has been sampled numerous times including on songs by the Beastie Boys (“Shadrach”), Rodney O & Joe Cooley (“Cooley High”), DJ Qbert (“Track 10”) and J Dilla (“One Eleven”). After “King Tim III” charts, Fatback scores its biggest success in 1980 with their thirteenth album “Hot Box” and the back to back R&B hits “Gotta Get My Hands On Some (Money)” (#6 R&B) and “Backstrokin’” (#3 R&B). Still together after more than forty years, the band still perform “King Tim III” in their live shows.
On this day in music history: August 26, 1985 – “Romance 1600”, the second album by Sheila E. is released. Produced by Prince and Sheila E., it is recorded at Master Sound Studios, Cheshire Sound Studios in Atlanta, GA and Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, CA from December 1984 – February 1985. While Sheila E.’s debut album “The Glamorous Life” is still riding the charts, she and Prince begin work on her sophomore release. The first sessions for the album take place in December of 1984, during days off on the Purple Rain Tour where Escovedo is also touring as Prince’s opening act. Though Prince and Sheila E. play most of the instruments on the albums, Sheila’s band are also involved in the sessions. The first two tracks recorded are “Fish Fries” and “Small Grey Monkey” which are shelved and remain unreleased to this day. The bulk of the album is recorded in Atlanta on days off in the middle of a five night stand at The Omni Coliseum. The last two songs are recorded in Hollywood at Sunset Sound where the album is also mixed. Released fourteen months after her debut, it is also well received by fans. It spins off three singles including “Sister Fate” (#36 R&B, #108 Bubbling Under) and “Bedtime Story”. The second single “A Love Bizarre” (#2 R&B, #11 Pop, #1 Club Play), a twelve minute plus funk workout featuring Prince on background vocals is the albums centerpiece, and becomes Sheila E.’s highest charting single on the R&B chart. “Romance 1600” peaks at number twelve on the Billboard R&B album chart, number fifty on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.