On this day in music history: November 19, 1977 – “Serpentine Fire” by Earth, Wind & Fire hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 7 weeks, also peaking at #13 on the Hot 100 on February 11, 1978. Written by Maurice White, Verdine White and Reginald “Sonny” Burke, it is the fourth R&B chart topper for the legendary R&B/Funk band led by drummer and vocalist Maurice White. Following the release of Earth, Wind & Fire’s seventh studio album “Spirit” and the extensive tour that follows, Maurice White takes a much needed vacation in early 1977. White visits Brazil during his sabbatical, soaking up the culture and the countries’ unique sounds and rhythms. Also having an avid interest in Eastern philosophy, metaphysics and all things spiritual, all of these influences make their way into the bands’ music. Collaborating with his younger brother, bassist Verdine White and musician Sonny Burke, the trio come up with “Serpentine Fire”. The song is a metaphor describing a person’s life force, primarily their sexual impulse and energy. Issued as the first single from Earth, Wind & Fire’s landmark eighth album “All ‘N All” on October 5, 1977, it hits the charts and rises to the top quickly. Like their previous R&B chart topper “Getaway” the previous year, “Serpentine Fire” is edited from its original recorded length (to fit the confines of the vinyl LP’s time limit) of 5:02 to 3:51. The full unedited version is released on a white label promotional 12" single for club and radio DJ’s at the time of its original release. It is belatedly issued commercially in 1989 as a CBS Mixed Masters 12" reissue (on the B-side of “Boogie Wonderland”). The chart topping success of “Serpentine Fire” and duration on the chart makes it top R&B single of 1978, as ranked by Billboard Magazine. It also helps to propel the accompanying album “All ‘N’ All” to the top of the Billboard R&B album chart, into the top five on the Top 200, selling over three million copies in the US alone.
On this day in music history: November 19, 1966 – “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #28 on the Hot 100 on December 10, 1966. Written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, It is the biggest hit for Alabama born soul singer. The song is actually recorded in the Summer of 1965 (with Booker T. & The MG’s, Isaac Hayes on piano, and The Mar-Keys horn section), but is held back from release by Stax Records president Jim Stewart when he believes that it is too similar to Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour”. The record actually experiences resistance from radio upon its release, failing to receive any airplay initially. Stax Records’ head Al Bell hits upon the idea of Floyd performing live in an area where he has a strong fan base. Washington DC is the city that is chosen. The ploy works, with the single breaking on radio stations in the DC and Baltimore area. From there, the record goes national. Over the years, “Knock On Wood” is covered by a number of artists including versions by Ike & Tina Turner, David Bowie, and Eric Clapton. Singer Amii Stewart’s disco rendering of the song becomes a worldwide hit, hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of 1979. “Knock On Wood” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 19, 1966 – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 4 weeks on November 26, 1966. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the eighth number one pop single, and third R&B chart topper for the Motown vocal trio. The track is a deliberate attempt by HDH to give the group a harder edged sound. The songs’ distinctive morse code like lead guitar lick is suggested by Lamont Dozier when he hears the intro to a news report on the radio with a similar rhythmic element to it. The track is recorded at Motown Records Studio A on June 30, 1966 with instrumental backing by The Funk Brothers. The Supremes overdub their vocals two months later on August 1, 1966. Released as the follow up to the girls’ previous chart topper “You Can’t Hurry Love” on October 12, 1966, it is another immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on October 29, 1966, it rockets to the top of the chart just three weeks later. The week that “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” hits the top of the chart, it presides over a unique top five in which all of the songs within had either previously reached number one, or are on their way to hitting the top of the chart. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” sells more than one million copies in the US. Like many Motown classics, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” covered by a wide variety of artists, including versions by Wilson Pickett, Rod Stewart, and The Box Tops. The song returns to the top ten in a dramatically re-vamped version by hard rock band Vanilla Fudge in 1968. Their version, initially released in June of 1967 fails to make much of an impression at first. Clocking in at more than seven minutes on their self-titled debut, it is pared down to under three minutes for single release. It’s only after it begins receiving widespread airplay on FM underground stations playing the long LP cut, that it eventually crosses over to AM pop stations. Reissued a year later in June of 1968, climbs to #6 on the Hot 100 on August 31, 1968. Then over twenty years after The Supremes top the pop charts with the song, it hits number one a second time, when it is covered by British pop singer Kim Wilde, whose own Hi-NRG dance remake becomes a club and pop smash. Regarded as one of The Supremes career defining singles as well as a R&B and pop standard, it is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1989 – “Don’t Take It Personal” by Jermaine Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #64 on the Hot 100 on January 6, 1990. Written by David “Pic” Conley, David Townsend and Derrick Culler, it is the second R&B chart topper for the bassist and co-lead vocalist of the Jackson musical family. The song is co-written and produced by Conley and Townsend of the band Surface, The song had originally slated for Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” album, the writers withdraw the song after producer Frank Farian insists that they not travel to Germany to attend the recording sessions. Arista chief Clive Davis passes the song on to Jackson instead. Issued the title track from Jermaine’s twelfth solo album (also titled “Don’t Take It Personal”), it becomes the singers’ biggest hit since “I Think It’s Love” (co-written by Stevie Wonder) in 1986.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1972 – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on December 9, 1972. Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, it is the first major hit for the Philadelphia, PA vocal quintet. Lead singer Teddy Pendergrass initially joins The Blue Notes as their drummer, but is moved to the front and center of the group when Harold Melvin discovers that he can sing. Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes is among the first acts signed to Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records in 1971. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is originally written for the Chicago based R&B group The Dells, but does not end up recording it when a deal with their record label cannot be reached. Instead, it is given to The Blue Notes and is released as their second single, becoming an immediate smash on both pop and R&B radio. The success of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” marks the beginning of a hit streak Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes have, turning Teddy Pendergrass into a star prior to launching his own solo career in 1977. British band Simply Red covers the song in 1989, taking it to number one, belatedly winning Gamble and Huff a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1990. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1968 – “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited is released. Written by Eugene Record and Sonny Sanders, it is the sixth single released for the jazz/soul instrumental duo from Chicago, IL. Originally members of The Ramsey Lewis Trio, drummer Red Holt and bassist Eldee Young form their own group The Young-Holt Trio with pianist Don Walker in 1966. The trio are signed to Chicago based Brunswick Records and quickly score a hit with the instrumental “Wack Wack” (#12 R&B, #40 Pop). Releasing three more albums during 1967 including the live “On Stage”, the group are unable to match the success of their initial outing. In 1968, Walker leaves the band and is replaced by Ken Chaney, with the trio changing their name to Young-Holt Unlimited just prior to his departure. During this time, Chi-Lites lead singer Eugene Record and songwriter and arranger Sonny Sanders write the song “Am I The Same Girl”. The song is recorded by Record’s wife, singer Barbara Acklin who has just scored her first major hit with the classic “Love Makes A Woman” in the Summer of 1968. Before Acklin can release the song, producer Carl Davis mixes out the lead vocal and overdubs another piano part playing the melody. The song now re-titled “Soulful Strut” features studio musicians playing on it and does not actually feature any of the members of Young-Holt Unlimited, but Brunswick decides to release the song under their name anyway. Much to everyone’s surprise, the record is an immediate hit and quickly takes off. Entering the Hot 100 at #65 and #47 on the R&B singles chart on November 30, 1968, “Soulful Strut” peaks at #3 on both charts on January 18, 1969, selling nearly two million copies in the US alone. After huge success of the Young-Holt Unlimited record, Brunswick belatedly releases Acklin’s “Am I The Same Girl” as a single in February of 1969. The song is only a minor hit, peaking at #33 on the R&B chart and #79 on the Hot 100. In spite of the lukewarm response to the Barbara Acklin record, it becomes a cult favorite among lovers of Chicago Soul, and is covered by a wide variety of artists including Dusty Springfield, Salena Jones, and is a sizable hit for the UK pop band Swing Out Sister in 1992. In spite of releasing a string of albums and singles on Brunswick Records through 1970, Young-Holt Unlimited are unable to repeat the success of “Soulful Strut”. The song is also covered by several artists including Peter Nero, Sparrow’s Trio and Grover Washington, Jr.. Regarded as one of the greatest R&B/Pop instrumental singles of all time, “Strut” has also been sampled and interpolated a number of artists including the Beastie Boys (“Some Dumb Cop Gave Me 2 Tickets Already”), 2 Live Crew (“Coolin’”), Joss Stone (“Don’t Cha Wanna Ride”), Pizzicato Five (“Hippie Day”), and Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf (“High School Love”). “Soulful Strut” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1992 – “The Bodyguard – Original Soundtrack Album” is released. Produced by David Foster, Robert Clivilles, David Cole, Narada Michael Walden, L.A. Reid, Babyface, Daryl Simmons, BeBe Winans, Walter Afanasieff, Ian Devaney, Andy Morris, Danny Kortchmar, Charlie Midnight and Roy Lott, it is recorded from Mid 1991 – Early 1992. The album serves as the soundtrack for the hugely successful film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. The film written by Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Body Heat”, “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”), is one of the first screenplays written by the Academy Award nominated screen writer, producer and director. Originally conceived as a film vehicle starring Diana Ross and Ryan O’Neal in the late 70’s, the script is stuck in development at Warner Bros for nearly two decades before it is finally made. With pop and R&B superstar Houston and Oscar winner Costner cast in the lead roles, the film is directed by Mick Jackson (“L.A. Story”). The accompanying soundtrack album features six tracks by Houston including the smash “I Will Always Love You”, which breaks the then current record of thirteen weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 set Boyz II Men’s “End Of The Road”. The album also features tracks by Curtis Stigers, Lisa Stansfield, Kenny G. & Aaron Neville, The S.O.U.L. System (featuring Michelle Visage), Joe Cocker (featuring Sass Jordan), and score composer Alan Silvestri. The soundtrack sells over forty four million copies worldwide, making it the biggest selling soundtrack of all time. The soundtrack wins three Grammy Awards including Record and Album Of The Year in 1994. “The Bodyguard” spends twenty weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 17x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1982 – “Chaka Khan”, the fourth solo album by Chaka Khan is released. Produced by Arif Mardin, it is recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York City from Summer – Fall 1982. Issued as the official follow up to “What’cha Gonna Do For Me” (having also recorded the jazz standards album “Echoes of An Era” in the interim), the album features musical support from musicians such as Michael Brecker, Hamish Stuart, Will Lee, Joe Henderson, Anthony Jackson and also features Rick James on “Slow Dancin’”. It spins off two singles including her cover of the Michael Jackson classic “Got To Be There” (#5 R&B, #67 Pop) and “Tearin’ It Up” (#48 R&B). The track “Be Bop Medley” wins Khan and Mardin a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices, and Chaka picks up a second Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for the entire album in 1984. The album makes its CD debut in 1991, when it is released by Warner Music Japan. It is currently in print as part of the box set “Chaka Khan – Original Album Series” released by Warner Music Group UK in 2009. “Chaka Khan” peaks at number five on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number fifty two on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1979 – “Still” by The Commodores hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on November 24, 1979. Written by Lionel Richie, it is the second chart topping single for the R&B band from Tuskegee, AL. Riding a huge wave of success after scoring their first number one pop single with “Three Times A Lady” the year before, The Commodores re-enter the studio in the early part of 1979 to begin recording their seventh studio album. Once again, showing his gift for writing heartfelt and emotional ballads, Richie writes “Still” as a companion piece to “Sail On”, the first single from the bands’ “Midnight Magic” album. Just as “Sail On” is inspired by the break up of a close childhood friends’ marriage, “Still” deals the aftermath of that break up. The songs’ narrative finds the couple realizing that even though their romantic relationship has ended, that they remain bonded to each other as friends. It becomes an instant favorite at radio when stations begin playing the nearly six minute long album cut, with some making their own edits. Its popularity grows so quickly that Motown is forced to rush release it in mid September of 1979, as “Sail On” is still rising up the pop and R&B charts. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on September 29, 1979, it races to the top of the chart seven weeks later. Both “Still” and “Sail On” both briefly reside in the Top 10 at the same time, with “Sail On” holding at its peak position of number four for a second week on October 20, 1979, while “Still” pole vaults from #38 to #10 that same week. “Still” is The Commodores fourth million selling single in the US.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1978 – “Destiny”, the twelfth album by The Jacksons is released. Produced by The Jacksons, it is recorded at Cherokee Studios, Total Experience Studios in Hollywood, CA, Wally Heider/Filmways Studios, The Record Plant and Dawnbreaker Studios in Los Angeles, CA from August – November 1978. Following the disappointing sales of the group’s second Epic album “Goin’ Places”, The Jacksons’ recording career hangs in the balance by mid 1978. CBS Records actually considers dropping them from the label, but former Blood, Sweat & Tears drummer turned A&R man Bobby Columby intervenes, convincing the executives to not only give the group another chance, but finally give them the creative and artistic control they have long desired. With the brothers writing the bulk of the material themselves, Columby and The Jacksons assemble a crack team of top notch studio musicians for the sessions that include Nathan Watts (bass), Ed Greene, Ricky Lawson, Claudio Slon, Rick Marotta (drums), Greg Phillinganes, Michael Boddicker (keyboards), Paulinho DaCosta, Laudir de Oliveira (percussion), Paul Jackson, Jr., Roland Bautista and Michael Sembello (guitars). The album is a major critical and commercial success upon its release, marking an important turning point in the group’s career. “Destiny” also becomes the jumping off point, of Michael Jackson’s solo career as an adult performer. It spins off two singles including “Blame It On The Boogie” (#3 R&B, #54 Pop) and the platinum selling “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” (#3 R&B, #7 Pop). In 2008, the album is remastered and feature the original 12" dance mixes of “Boogie” and “Shake Your Body” remixed by John Luongo as bonus tracks. “Destiny” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number eleven on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.