100 Essential CDs – Number 14 – 60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s


60 More Classic Dance Hits Of The 70s (Connoisseur Collection 1991)


This three CD compilation was one of the first CD box sets I ever bought, thrilled to replace my 7″ and 12″ vinyl collection of many of these classic tracks.  I continually regret my decision to chuck away the vinyl but this has been a purchase which I have played consistently over the years.  I also bought its companion release, the inevitably titled 60 Classic Dance Hits in this new indestructible format – but it rotted.  In the early days of CD there was a chemical reaction which occurred between the CD in its case and the paper inserts and it went a horribly browny-gold colour on both sides and became unplayable.  This fate did not totally escape this collection but it has just gone the funny colour of the front of the discs which hasn’t, thankfully, effected its playability.  There are, true, a number of tracks which I have on other CDs, but a number which I only have on this collection.  I think twenty-eight years on the damage would have been done by now so I think I’m fairly safe.

I think this is a little different from many dance/disco collections as it has a very British bias.  The sleeve notes contain the UK chart positions (that saved me a bit of time) and a number of them were hits only in the UK and were by UK artists.  There’s a fair share of the big American names with songs that we might expect to see on disco compilations but these were probably more evident on the earlier collection.  Here, we dig a little deeper to include reggae, northern soul, slow dances as well as the more obviously disco tracks which do span the decade but with the greater majority coming from the mid/latter years.  With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings


1.Rock Your Baby – George McRae (1974) (UK#1, US#2) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2” and  “Disco Classics

2. Disco Nights (Rock Freak) – G.Q (1979) (UK#42, US#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

3. He’s The Greatest Dancer – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#6,US#9)

4.  Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – The Jacksons (1979) (UK#4, US#7) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

5. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems” and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

6. Whodunnit- Tavares (1977) (UK#5, US#22)

7. You See The Trouble With Me – Barry White (1976) (UK#2)

8. Is This A Love Thing – Raydio (1978) (UK#27)

9. Boogie Nights- Heatwave (1977) (UK#2, US#2) (also on “Disco Classics“)

10.Disco Inferno – Trammps (1977) (UK#16, US#11) (also on “Nights In Heaven“)

11.Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey (1978) (UK#3, US#1)(also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

12. You’re My Everything – Lee Garrett (1976) (UK#15)

13. Yum Yum (Gimmee Some) – Fatback Band (1975) (UK#40)

A delicious squelchy bassline on this highly likeable slab of street funk.  The lyrics are absolute nonsense about liking ice cream and cornflakes yet the rhythm and feel of the track makes it cool and just a little startling when we heard it first back in 1975.  The first of their 6 UK Top 40 hits they perhaps were never as hard-hitting as this again, softening the sound and upping the commercial feel on bigger hits such as “Do The Spanish Hustle” and “I Found Lovin'”.  The Fatback Band always had potential for me to be a funk supergroup but were unable to find pop chart success in the US.  They had quite a few fine moments and this is one of them.


14. Blame It On The Boogie – Jacksons (1978) (UK#8) (also on “Disco Classics“)

15. We Are Family – Sister Sledge (1979) (UK#8, US#2)

16. Good Times – Chic (1979) (UK#5, US#1)

17. Young Hearts Run Free – Candi Staton (1976) (UK#2, US#20)

Up there amongst the greatest disco tracks of all time, this combines southern soul and subtle country and western influences (especially in the lyrics) with disco music and a sheer uplifting danceability which is nothing short of genius.  Candi puts in a great vocal on this track which was produced for her by Dave Crawford who propelled her into the big time.  It’s a great song of independence and empowerment.  Lyrically, I always smile at the couplet “Encourage the babies every time they say/self-preservation is what’s really going on today“.  Candi knows some very articulate babies!  Not even “I Will Survive” deals with a toxic relationship, which was the source of this song, in such an uplifting way.  Further collaborations between Candi and Crawford were equally positive but did not have the depth of this song and did tend to sound like “Young Hearts.”  It has scored chart placings for Candi on the UK on two separate occasions in 1986 as a re-mix and most successfully in 1999 as a re-recording when it got to number 29 when Candi was hot again thanks to her participation on the club classic that will never fade away “You Got The Love”. In 2018 Candi released her 30th album, appropriately titled “Unstoppable”.


18. Take That To The Bank- Shalamar (1978) (UK#20)

A pair of dancers from the US TV show “Soul Train” put together by the producers after session singers of the same name scored first time off with a so-so Motown medley “Uptown Festival”.  Jeffrey Daniel and Jody Hewitt joined forces with vocalist Gerald Brown on an extended financial metaphor of a song which despite their much greater success worldwide in the 80’s for me ranks alongside “A Night To Remember” as my favourite of theirs.  There have been personnel changes over the years with Brown being replaced by Howard Hewitt in their golden period and  Daniel and Hewitt still perform alongside Carolyn Griffey, daughter of the man instrumental in putting the group together in the first place.  Co-written and produced by Leon Sylvers, it would have been a great track for his already established family act The Sylvers who had scored a US#1 in 1976 with their track “Boogie Fever”.  Instead it became the second of 11 UK Top 40 hits for Shalamar.


19. Galaxy Of Love –Crown Heights Affair (1978) (UK#24)

20. Do What You Wanna Do – T. Connection (1977) (UK#11)

The biggest and best track from this group from the Bahamas who got big local success and moved to Miami and TK records to join the sunshine sounds of  labelmates KC and George McCrae.  This is a track which has improved with age and still sounds like a relevant piece of disco funk.  This was the big hit of their debut album “Magic” and they recorded three more albums for the label before moving to Capitol in the early 80’s where unfortunately their commercial sales continued to dwindle.



1.Now That We’ve Found Love – Third World (1978) (UK#10)

2. Can You Feel The Force – The Real Thing (1979) (UK#5) (also on “Disco Classics“)

3. Disco Music (I Like It) – J.A.L.N Band (1976) (UK#21)

4. Hi Tension – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#13)

The Brit-funk movement kicked into action in 1978 with this extremely likeable funky track which put lie to the perception that British soul and funk music was inferior.  This North London band added a bit of a Caribbean feel to the mix with a hint of steel drums over an explosive ear-worm of a chant.  The group at times consisted of Phil Fearon who would go on to have hits in the 80’s leading pop-soul combo Galaxy and Courtney Pine joined them on tour.  Their one album was released on Island Records and I actually thought they were going to be huge.  I bought this single and played just as much the ballad B-side “Girl I Betcha” which had an Earth Wind and Fire feel and was confirmation to me that there was talent in this group.  Both their UK hits, this name-checking opener and the follow-up are included on this CD.  Follow-up “The British Hustle” was a little late in cashing in with the original dance craze which gave hits for the standard, the Spanish and Latin variations but reinforced the Britishness of the enterprise and gave them a higher chart position reaching number 8.  Both tracks were as good as one another and I think there was a considerable amount of untapped potential to this group which perhaps should have demanded a longer term investment from their record company.

hi tension

5. Dancing In The City – Marshall Hain (1978) (UK#3)

6. Silly Games- Janet Kay (1979) (UK#2)

7. Reggae For It Now – Bill Lovelady (1979) (UK#12)

8. Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna (1977) (UK#1)

9. I Love To Love- Tina Charles (1976) (UK#1)

We knew Tina’s voice from the 5000 Volts hit “I’m On Fire” and from those cheapie Top Of The Pops cover versions where she was used as a session singer before making her big breakthrough with this Biddu composition and production.  I thought Tina Charles was great in 1976, a worthy successor to the girl stars of the 60’s and when this topped the charts you’d have to go back to 1968 and Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were The Days” to find the previous British solo female chart-topper.  Biddu had scored a chart-topper with Carl Douglas and the Kung-Fu craze and some hits with his own orchestra but with Tina he had his muse and began a couple of years of a run of hits which sold well worldwide but couldn’t crack the US.  This was her biggest and best track, the slight gender shift of the man who only wanted to dance whilst the girl wanted to canoodle made it appealing and the song itself is so catchy and performed superbly.  I’ve seen Tina perform this and her other hits a few times over the years reminding me of the girl in the floppy cap I always had a bit of a crush on when I saw her on “Top Of The Pops” in 1976.


10. Queen Of Clubs – KC & Sunshine Band (1974) (UK#7)

Their five US pop number 1’s would have to wait to begin clocking up until the following year but we Brits lapped up this debut hit in 1974 and I could argue the case for this being their best ever track.  Stabbing staccato brass gives it a real urgency, KC’s vocal is convincing and it also contains the (uncredited) magnificent falsetto of George McCrae hot on the heels of his own debut chart-topper.  Maybe not as sunshiny as some of their biggest hits but this really helped establish the Miami sound.  In the US they really were one of the big singles group in the second half of the decade, in the UK they had to wait until 1983 for their sole number 1 “Give It Up” which sounded lacklustre compared to their big 70’s hits.


11. You Sexy Thing – Hot Chocolate (1975) (UK#2, US#3)

12. Get Up And Boogie – Silver Convention (1976) (UK#7, US#2)

13. It Only Takes A Minute – 100 Tons & A Feather (1976) (UK#9)

14. British Hustle – Hi Tension (1978) (UK#8)

15. Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – Gloria Gaynor (1975) (UK#14)

16. Dance (Disco Heat) – Sylvester (1978) (UK#29, US#19)

17. From New York To LA – Patsy Gallant (1977) (UK#6)

At one time nicknamed the “Canadian Disco Queen” Patsy is a one-hit wonder in the UK known really only for this delightful slab of very pop influenced disco.  This always reminds me of a stand-up comedy act Pam Ann who is still going strong but who used to be a regular crowd puller in Brighton and London in the 1990’s.  As might be guessed by her name Pam’s comedy was cabin crew based, she wears a stewardess’ uniform and mercilessly rips apart the many airport staff who flock to see her show.  As a finale she would perform to this song in roller boots, which sounds odd, but was something I always found really quite affecting, actually, the hairs are sticking up on the back of my neck thinking about it.  I always liked this song anyway but now every time I hear it I can’t get the vision of a trolley dolly in uniform twirling around the stage and dance floor of whatever venue she was performing in.

From NY to LA.  From Patsy to Pam Ann

18. Love Really Hurts Without You – Billy Ocean (1976) (UK#2, US#22) (also on “Disco Classics“)

19. Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few (1975) (UK#9)

20. Reaching For The Best – The Exciters (1975) (UK#31)


1. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel –Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15) (also on “Disco Classics” and “Rhythm Divine 2

2. Baby Don’t Change Your Mind – Gladys Knight & Pips  (1977) (UK#4)

3. Here I Go Again – Archie Bell & The Drells (1972) (UK#11)

4.Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Three Degrees (1978) (UK#12) (also on “Native New Yorker“)

After the first surge of success with the Philadelphia International label it would seem a bold move for the Three Degrees to change direction from that smooth Philly sound.  The fact that they were always credited in the UK press of being a favourite of Prince Charles kept them in the headlines and a move to the European Ariola label saw them pairing up with Giorgio Moroder which relaunched the group and gave them another four UK Top 40 hits to add to the 7 from their first phase of their career.  Their biggest hit “When Will I See You Again” was full of the warmth of Sheila Ferguson’s vocal but this feels chilly and even slightly tempestuous as Sheila unleashes the powerful blast of her vocal, sweetened not by Moroder’s icy production but by Valerie and Helen’s backing.  The girls had gone uptempo before with their contribution of their US #1 with MFSB but with this disco track they had become once again relevant and contemporary.


5. Win Place Or Show (She’s A Winner) – The Intruders (1974) (UK#14)

6. Come On Over (To My Place) – The Drifters (1972) (UK#9)

7. Girls – The Moments & Whatnauts (1975) (UK#3)

8. Feel The Need In Me – Detroit Emeralds (1973) (UK#4)

9. That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Rhythm Divine 2“)

10. Funky Nassau- The Beginning Of The End (1971) (UK#31, US#15)

11. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry (1976) (UK#7, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics“)

12. Disco Stomp- Hamilton Bohannon (1975) (UK#6)

This is a track I have never seen on any other compilation.  I even had a best of Hamilton Bohannon CD where it didn’t even feature, amazingly as this was his biggest UK hit.  Bohannon is a noted percussionist and the drums feature heavily on this thuddingly funky track.  Vocally he does little more than mention the places where everyone is doing the disco stomp but the whole thing feels hypnotic and certainly unlike anything that was in the charts at that time.


13. I Love Music – O’ Jays (1976) (UK#13, US#5)

14. If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) – Staple Singers (1974) (UK#34, US#9)

15. If You Don’t Know Me By Now – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1972) (UK#9, US#3)

16. I’ve Been Lonely So Long – Frederick Knight (1972) (UK#22, US#27)

17. I Wanna Get Next To You – Rose Royce (1977) (UK#14, US#10)

Those of you who still, after all these years, think that Rose Royce was a female artist rather than a group need to take a listen to this achingly beautiful ballad.  Gwen Dickey, who had powered her way through tracks such as “Carwash”, “Wishing On A Star” and “Is It Love You’re After” is relegated to the background here as Kenny Copeland excels with an Eddie Kendricks inspired vocal.  Producer Norman Whitfield, best known for his work with The Temptations, wrote this for a love scene in the movie “Carwash”.  Lyrically, it touches on the same delusional male approach of “Just My Imagination” and it ranks among Rose Royce’s very best and one of Whitfield’s best compositions and productions.


18. Best Of My Love – The Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics and “Rhythm Divine 2“)

19. This Will Be – Natalie Cole (1975) (UK#32, US#6)

An incredible debut single, this is sheer joy from the very first notes and introduced a vocalist who was exuberant and ready to make her mark from the off.  I loved it from the very first time I heard it, not even knowing it was by the daughter of my Dad’s favourite singer whose work I knew very well.  Comparisons were made to Aretha, but I actually never heard Aretha with this much verve and optimism.  If it resembles anything it is Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes A Woman” but this is so much more infectious.  I bought the single and pretty much wore it out.  I was given the debut album for Christmas and did much the same thing to that (weirdly I have never bought that album “Inseparable” on CD to replace that vinyl copy). The call and response ending gives it a real gospel feel with Natalie the lead singer doing battle with Natalie on background vocals  but it is the song’s swinging love for life which always hits home.  You could tell that hers was going to be a significant career, in no way at this stage following in her father’s footsteps but obviously having learned so much from him in terms of vocals, phrasing and a jazz sensibility which could all be put to use on this very contemporary debut.


20. Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale (1977) (UK#8, US# 2)



This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)- My Tribute to Natalie Cole

I am interrupting the countdown of my reviewsrevues Top 10 books of the year because yesterday evening we had the very sad news of the death of Natalie Cole.  Anyone who has read my 100 Essential CD reviews will know that I am a big fan of the Cole family, both father and daughter, and now daughter, like father, has passed away much too young at the age of 65.

It was back in Christmas 1975 that I received a present I had been itching for ever since I had heard Natalie’s joyful debut single “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” on the radio, her first album “Inseparable”.  It was one of the first albums I ever owned and I played it until it wore out.  That was 40 years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since (the words of that debut single prophetic).  Of course over those years there have been ups and downs – there was a period in the late 70s-early 80’s when her material was just not that good.  This was a time when Natalie was dogged with her own personal demons and addictions, which she bravely set out in her candid autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder”.  But the career comeback happened in 1988 with the sublime “Everlasting” and soared to her career highlight, the Grammy Award winning Record Of The Year “Unforgettable – With Love” recorded as a tribute to her father in 1991.

Since then (some 24 years) Natalie has proved herself as one of the great song stylists of all time and all of her albums have been a treat.  For me she was certainly up there with Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin as she straddled all musical types and imbued every song she sang with great warmth and style.  Her most recent album ( Natalie Cole En Espanol- 2014) features songs sung in Spanish and it is well worth a listen.  I cherish the two occasions I saw her live (once at Hammersmith Apollo when “Pink Cadillac” had broken big and once at the Royal Albert Hall with her “Unforgettable” show.)  I think despite the lengthy career she was very under-rated as a performer and it is time to acknowledge her as one of the all time greats.  If you want to find out more please read the reviews of my two favourite albums, read “Angel On My Shoulder” or just watch the video of the song that started it all off for me.

Review of “Everlasting“- Natalie Cole

Review of “Unforgettable..With Love“- Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole (1950-2015) – Rest In Peace.

100 Essential CDs – Number 29 – Unforgettable With Love –Natalie Cole (1991)

imagesUnforgettable With Love – Natalie Cole (Elektra 1991)

UK Chart Position – 11

US Chart Position – 1


Four years after the commercial and critical success that was my last essential album Natalie Cole’s “Everlasting”  came the album she was born to make. There had been one album in the interim period 1989’s “Good To Be Back” released on EMI-USA. In the UK this became her biggest ever album reaching number 10 and from it came her biggest ever British single, the number 2 placing of “Miss You Like Crazy”. It featured a range of musical styles, once again confirming her versatility as an artist but for me, was a good, solid album rather than an essential one. In her homeland it reached number 59 so wasn’t really building on the success of “Everlasting” over there but the hit track gave her another Top 10 US single (number 7) announcing that not only was she back but she was a reliable seller as an artist.

The idea for her next album was one that had been continually suggested from the start of her career. She had resisted but by the early 90’s with Nat’s music still very much in vogue there was talk of other artists considering this- George Benson, Al Jarreau and Barbra Streisand were all mentioned and to an extent Natalie realised it might be now or never for her. In her autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder” she explains her hesitation.

“One of the reasons I resisted singing my father’s music was because deep down I believed that it would totally change my life –and there were no guarantees that it would be for the better. Now, I felt I had made great progress with myself personally, emotionally and professionally- I had paid my dues, and had my own hit songs. Now I was ready.”

Her label EMI were not keen on the idea, they saw it as a marketing disaster after they had promoted Natalie as a R&B/pop star to then switch tracks and let her explore her roots for an entire album but Elektra were keen on the idea and knew that producer Tommy LiPuma was the man to oversee the project. With him sharing Executive Producer duties with Cole, David Foster and her then husband Andre Fischer were drafted in to produce the tracks. The whole thing was done with style and class and the production of this album is quite sumptuous. Natalie saw it as her gift to her father, something that could never be repeated and had to be exactly right. This is really an ultimate Father’s Day gift and I would imagine quite a few Dads have opened this on Father’s Day.

Did it change Natalie’s life as she feared? Absolutely – Worldwide it is her biggest selling album by far. It gave her an American number 1 album and was the 47th biggest album of the 1990’s. It was a critical as well as a commercial triumph. In 1992 it won the Grammy for “Album Of The Year” together with another five Grammys and Cole herself needn’t have been worried about the desertion of her fans as she once again picked up another Soul Train award which she had deemed so important with “I Live For Your Love” from “Everlasting” – this time it was for Best R&B Album by a Female Artist. The demand for this album was huge, she toured worldwide (I saw her for the second time in her career at the Royal Albert Hall which was a fabulously professional concert). She had spent a lot of her early career being compared to Aretha Franklin, as a result of this album it was Ella Fitzgerald being cited. Like Ella and Aretha, Natalie is one of the greatest song stylists of all time.

It was a labour of love from the start. The songs had to be selected – the producers wanted more tracks on the CD than the label did initially. With the strength of her father’s back catalogue they could have done hundreds. In the album notes Natalie does a good job at explaining her choices. It contains a mixture of her father’s best known tracks together with lesser known, more unusual tracks that many of the listeners would not have heard before. In some cases it feels like Natalie singing one of her father’s songs, in others it is her version which has become definitive, but because of the high standard of the vocal, instrumentation and production every track is of a high quality.

For me, what makes the album so special is the interesting choice of tracks. “It’s Only A Paper Moon” is a well known song by many different artists but Cole sings a rarely used prelude which is just a lovely introduction to the song and which I didn’t even know existed. “Lush Life” is a blues soaked jazz number of heartbreak and alcoholism which needs to be sung by a voice that has battled with demons. Natalie had slumped to the bottom and so this is a fitting song for her to sing and so her version feels more authentic than Nat’s. (Actually, another superb version of this song is by Donna Summer, recorded by her at a time when things had been difficult). Other notable versions have been recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Queen Latifah and Lady Ga Ga on her album with Tony Bennett. Lyrically, it feels like a man’s song but it works so well when it is performed by a woman with its complex chord changes and inherent sense of weariness ;

I used to visit all the very gay places

those come what may places

where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life

to get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails

the girls I knew had sad and sullen gray faces

with distingué traces that used to be there you could see where

they’d been washed away by too many through the day

twelve o’clocktails

The most unusual thing about this song? It was written by a sixteen year old! Billy Strayhorn who went on to collaborate with Duke Ellington had the world-weariness to come up with lyrics such as;

Romance is mush

stifling those who strive,

I’ll live a lush life

in some small dive

and there I’ll be

while I rot with the rest

of those whose lives are lonely too.

Another surprising songwriter was eden ahbez (lower case intentional), who adopted a fruit and nut eating nomadic lifestyle some twenty years before the Hippy movement began and was reputedly living underneath the Hollywood sign when Nat recorded his “Nature Boy”. This is another complex song which Natalie does a great job on – a song which has already featured on my Essential CD list in superb versions by her father and by George Benson.

As well as possessing the same perfect diction as Nat which makes every word crystal clear to the listener, Natalie is able to up the tempo and put so much energy into the faster numbers. My favourite track on the album is “Orange Coloured Sky” with its “flash, bangs and alacazams”, promenading rhythm and a performance of pure gusto, “Almost Like Being In Love” is taken at a good tempo and at this speed becomes a great swing number, “Avalon” is a short, almost frantic song. I’ve never heard Nat’s version of but it reminds me a little of his “Dance Ballerina Dance”. Of the tracks clearly associated with Nat you get “Mona Lisa”, “L-O-V-E”, “Route 66” and “Too Young” amongst others. The reason the album attracted so much publicity and provided a hit single (UK-19, US- 14) was the final track, a duet with her father on “Unforgettable”. The seamlessness of combining Natalie’s voice with her Dad’s was a technical triumph, but for me I’ve never been totally convinced and I don’t think it adds anything to the solo version. It is something that many people wanted to hear and in the years since this album Natalie has done this a few more times. I think it works best on the more playful “Walking My Baby Back Home” which was re-recorded as a duet on 2008’s “Still Unforgettable”.

This album did push Natalie in a different direction. Her albums since this have sometimes been jazz dominated, sometimes pop/R&B and sometimes there has been a mixture of both. Her most recent album (2014) is of Spanish songs. It really does seem she can sing anything (rather like her father). My favourite of her post- Unforgettable albums is “Snowfall On The Sahara” produced by rock legend Phil Ramone which features a real mix of songs from Leon Russell’s beautiful “A Song For You” to songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Jerry Ragovy and Michel Legrand. “Unforgettable With Love” is the last of her albums I would deem as essential but there are a lot of treasures to be found in her work since then. Natalie is now 65 and still going strong in a career which has given her 9 Grammys for her vocal performances and it is now forty years since she first exploded onto the music scene with “This Will Be”.

At time of writing this CD can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for £4.28 new and used from £0.01. It can be downloaded for £8.99. American listeners can buy new from $8.55 and used from $0.01 and as a download for $9.49.   In the UK it is available to stream from Spotify.


100 Essential CDs – Number 75 – Everlasting –Natalie Cole (1987)


Everlasting – Natalie Cole (EMI/Manhattan Records 1987)

UK Chart Position – 62

US Chart Position – 42

This was Natalie’s 11th solo studio album. Her debut “Inseparable” from 1975 had marked a superb arrival onto the music scene. Critically acclaimed, it was a fresh, vibrant sound which got record buyers excited and their parents recalling the music of her father. I had a vinyl copy given to me as a Christmas present and it was the first album I owned which wasn’t by a well-established chart act. The first single “This Will Be” is an all-time classic and is still Natalie’s most streamed track on Spotify. It got to number 6 in her homeland but bizarrely only made 32 in the UK. It was a track ahead of its time. British radio did not know quite what to make of this fresh, energetic sound with more than a nod back to the greatest moments of Aretha. Despite that lowly chart placing it is still a very well known track over here, one that has certainly lasted the test of time. It won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Natalie was named Best New Artist. The first album would be an essential CD but I don’t own it on CD as it took years for it to be released, by which time I had bought various anthology releases which had the best tracks from it. The same would apply to its follow-up “Natalie” from 1976 which had a greater range of musical styles and a greater gloss of sophistication.   Natalie’s chart career peak at this stage of her career was in 1977 when “I’ve Got Love On My Mind” gave her a US Top 5 record and the album from whence it came “Unpredictable” became her first platinum album reaching number 8 in the US album charts.

But Natalie was a troubled artist and that trouble came in the form of drugs. Her addictions have been catalogued by her in her impressively honest autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder” (Warner 2000). By the 80’s the career was in freefall. The record buying public had largely deserted her and the quality of her album releases was decidedly patchy. 1987 saw a reversal of fortunes. She signed to EMI/Manhattan records and was teamed up with a combination of the hot and the vintage to produce her first gold album for eight years.  It was her first ever to chart in the UK and gave her two Top 20 US Singles, her second ever Top 5 US and very first UK Top 5 single together with three other UK Top 40 hits. Natalie was back.

Production duty on this album was shared. In the early days Natalie had a very identifiable gospelesque sound developed with her production team Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy. In the meantime Cole and Yancy had married, divorced and Yancy had died of a heart attack two years before the release of this album at the age of 34. For this album production honours were spread out between a number of producers which meant the album did not have as much as a cohesive feel as some that had gone before but encompassed a range of styles. The album contains three tracks produced by Dennis Lambert (including one famously remixed by Robert Clivilles and David Cole), two by the legendary songwriting/production husband and wife time Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager and one by then hot production team Reggie and Vincent Calloway (plus one other by Reggie on his own), one by Marcus Miller one by her uncle Eddie. Jerry Knight, Aaron Zigman, Bruce Roberts, Andy Goldmark and Gerry Griffith complete the production team.

The album kicks off with the title track written and produced by Knight and Zigman. Jerry Knight had been a founder of the band Raydio in the late 70’s with Ray Parker Jnr and Zigman has since become a prolific film score composer. Working as a team they had scored a top 3 US, top 5 UK hit earlier on in the year with “Crush On You” by family group The Jets and this track does have a similar feel. It launches Natalie directly into the Pop/R& B market and makes her a relevant artist again from the outset. It’s a tale of total commitment to a relationship. It became a British hit single reaching number 28 when it was released over here as the third single off the album. Feeling very contemporary on release was “Jump Start” with its heavy beats and car imagery;

“Feels like my battery is in need of a jump

Our love is running down, done fell into a slump

Give me a spark to get the fire burning

Get my engine movin, set these wheels a turnin”

Okay it’s not exactly subtle but Natalie gives an Aretha-esque performance and the production is heavy and effective. The Calloway brothers who wrote and produced this were at the time members of the band Midnight Star and they had also charted a couple of times in 1986 in the UK with “Midas Touch” being their biggest hit (number 8). This has a heavier feel than their hits and sounds a little like what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were doing with great success at this time with Janet Jackson. When it gets to the “Jump Start My Heart” chant you can’t help but feel this is a major hit in the making. It was chosen as the first single and as Natalie had gone so cold as an artist had to make up the ground by attracting radio play. In the UK it hovered just outside the top 40 but was re-released once Natalie had become hot again the following year and got to 36. In the States it was the track that heralded the return of Natalie Cole getting to number 13, her biggest hit for 9 years.

The uptempo pace is maintained by “The Urge To Merge” a track which sounds like it would be very much at home on Whitney Houston’s mega-selling second album also released in 1987 as it has a “Love Is A Contact Sport/So Emotional” feel to it. It’s a good track, it has diminished somewhat for me because my partner sings the hook line “I get the urge to burp” whenever it plays. Don’t start me on misheard lyrics, I think that’s a blog post of its own (and Peter Kay has probably cornered the market with these).

I have a real soft spot for the two Bacharach/Bayer-Sager songs and they are amongst the best written by this particular partnership. “Split Decision” extends a courtroom metaphor to look at the state of a relationship and “In My Reality” is a warm, mid-tempo track beautifully performed. Both these tracks ooze class and would appeal to those who had traditionally supported Cole as well as those discovering her through the more commercial tracks.

The big hit on the album is Natalie’s version of a Bruce Springsteen song, which would not have seemed that promising in development but it was transformed by a Clivilles and Cole Turbo Remix taking her Top 5 in both US and UK. Natalie’s version of “Pink Cadillac” may just be the very best song about a car, (and we’re not counting “GTO” by Sinitta, as I’m not even sure what that is about!!). On my first vinyl version of this was the original mix, produced by Dennis Lambert which had a rockier edge but it was the club version that sold with its stuttering vocals and driving (pun intended) rhythms. The album was repackaged to replace the original with the Turbo mix and it is that which has made its way onto the CD. I had two vinyl copies of this because, one of the risks of vinyl, youngsters, I dropped the needle on my first copy which caused a scratch and jumping on one of my favourite tracks. When I bought my second vinyl copy it was the repackaged disc. This is the original cover art for the album.


At this point in her career Natalie had been reluctant to cover her father’s songs. There had been an album recorded with Johnny Mathis in 1983 which was turned into a TV special but that was more Mathis’ baby than Natalie’s. The time was not right for Natalie to do much more than this and the occasional song performed live. In interviews she was asked regularly when she would be recording her father’s songs.  Almost as a concession to this Natalie does cover “When I Fall In Love” on this album, but in a stroke of genius, the song is completely transformed into a mid 80’s Soul ballad. Produced by Marcus Miller of Luther Vandross fame the pace is slowed, the melody is revealed at a leisurely pace and the whole thing works superbly. Many of the listeners to this album would not have realised that this was a song from the early 50’s. “I Live For Your Love” was another ballad which confirmed Cole’s soul roots and got to number 13 in the US and 23 in the UK. The song won Cole a Best Female Single category in the Soul Train Awards, an honour that Natalie was particularly thrilled by as she states in her autobiography;

“There is a funny line black artists have to walk when they cross over to the pop charts, and getting this award from my peers meant that they still felt I was black, too. At the awards ceremony, I felt very grateful, and I got a chance to thank those who had seen me come and go- and come again.”

“More Than The Stars” was an affectionate nod to her family. It was the only track written by Natalie and produced by her uncle Eddie and has combines a contemporary feel with a nostalgic, relaxed jazz feel which makes it sound like a song her father would have recorded. Its Latin flavour is boosted by a superb guitar solo by Jose Feliciano. You can’t help but feel that this was a musical direction that Natalie was favouring. This was the track I dropped the needle on making it jump. I’ve had the CD copy for years and whenever it gets to the point where the record started to skip I find myself holding my breath. What’s that all about? By the mid 80’s vinyl was pretty inferior anyway and wafer thin compared to the thickness of albums ten or so years before.

This is a transition album – it has the commercial aspects which made her once again relevant and had her selling in quantities that the younger generation of Whitney and Janet Jackson would have respected; it had the class of the Bacharach numbers; it had the jazz feel of “More Than The Stars” and it had a recording of one of her father’s most famous songs. With the success of this album Natalie had clout again and if you combine all the elements of this album it’s no surprise that it would lead to a decision to revisit her father’s back catalogue without stinting on the finances and building on the success she had achieved as a valid, relevant artist and come up with the best album of her career. But that’s for another blog………………………….

This video is for the original Dennis Lambert produced version and is a perfect example of the 80’s pop video!

At time of writing this CD can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for £6.98 new and used from £0.24. It can be downloaded for £8.49. American listeners can buy new from $13.31 and used from $0.01 and as a download for $9.49.