10 essential WBLS classics… Like always, a selection is per definition limited. And even more when coming to talk about a radio station. Besides, the one we’re thinkin’ of isn’t any radio station, but an entity – WBLS – which, at the time, has set up urban R&B as a standard. Heavily contributing to establish pieces of music, be they hailing from major as from indie labels, as classics back then. This under the major influence of one man – Frankie Crocker – who was in charge of its programmation.
Residing in France in the second half of the 70’s, chances were few I could have heard of WBLS. Mind you, we were far from havin’ the tools at our disposals nowadays. Beginning with Internet and its services allowing us nowadays to get music or whatever from the other side of the globe. But thankfully enough I happened to have a friend whose sister was livin’ in New York City. Thus, being at the right position to send us tapes she’d recorded while listening to WBLS. Meanwhile allowing us to have a clear overview as to what was goin’ on musicwise.
Needless to say how each tape to me was like the Holly Grail. Featuring countless gems I felt like I had to get my hands on. But also put together in a unique style. From the instantly identifiable station’s jingles to the mixing techniques that were used. Not to mention the content that gave us the feeling we were at the epicenter of the groove. And the overall flow sounding like coming from another planet. Meanwhile contributing to establish the Big Apple as the definitive heart of the beat.
Strangely enough, I gotta say I still have the same emotion when comin’ to listen to these nowadays 40 years ol’ tapes. If not even more when thinkin’ of the countless of the actors of that time who’ve gone their way since. From Larry Levan to (Uncle) Mel Cheren, not to mention Frankie Crocker who, as a regular of the Paradise Garage, would program some of the acetates which Larry played during the weekend the following Monday on WBLS.
As a result, many are the gems we couldn’t talk about here, even though they would definitely have deserved a mention. No need to say how this selection is way from being exhaustive though, most likely due to find an extension later when the right time comes. Nevertheless, you should find thereafter a pretty much illustrative sample of versatile gems where the brilliance of the groove predominates…
Wishing you’ll enjoy the ride as much as we did, while putting this together for you. With your feedback, and a mention of your favorite song more than welcome.
With warm thanks for the inspiration and eternal love to Frankie Crocker who sadly passed of a pancreatic cancer, aged 62 in a Miami area hospital on Oct. 21, 2000.
Most definitely a quintessential cut in the history of contemporary music. With its lyrics still resonating nowadays, speakin’ about reachin’ success despite havin’ faced countless challenges.
Therefore, no wonder how the Afro-American community went on to consider it as the new Black national anthem. Meanwhile, it showed label heads Gamble & Huff, how McFadden & Whitehead could be more than songwriters. Their track receiving extra recognition a few months after its release. With Frankie Crocker turnin’ it into WBLS‘s Summer anthem [More…]
David Joseph first made himself a name as the lead singer of London-based band Hi-Tension. Hitting the charts with gems such as ‘British Hustle’, ‘There’s A Reason’ and ‘Hi-Tension’. Going solo in 1983, he is best remembered for ‘You Can’t Hide Your Love’. A syncopated midtempo groover with an insistent synth hook which reveived the remix treatment courtesy of Larry Levan. With Frankie Crocker contributing to its fame while heavily airing it on WBLS.
Taken from the 1980 released ‘Skyyport’ album, with some instantly recognizable production work by the likes of Solomon Burke, Jr. and Randy Muller of the Brass Construction fame. Definitely one of Skyy‘s strongest jams ever. I never managed to know who did an incredible edit of it one could hear back then on WBLS [More…]
A studio group put together by Crown Heights Affair‘s Raymond Reid and William Anderson, Unlimited Touch came straight to fame with ‘I Hear Music In The Streets’. Its follow-up – ‘Searching To Find The One’ – confirming their position as a force to count with at the time. With extra thanks to François Kevorkian for his remixing work. Their two biggest classics ever along with ‘Nobody Can Love Me (Quite The Way You Do)’…
‘Let’s Do It…’ For sure, Convertion pretty much made it. Delivering this infectious midtempo bumper blending insane synths effects with a jazzy piano line over a funky bass driven rhythm part. Eventually resurfacing 35 years after, with a rework courtesy of Louie Vega after its mastertapes got sadly mislaid [More…]
Although not their most famous song, ‘Double Cross’ remains nevertheless my favorite by the likes of First Choice. With outstanding vocal arrangements around lead singer Rochelle Fleming at the peak of her heart. But also a stellar production work courtesy of Norman Harris and Ron Tyson, with lush keys and horns over an infectious slapped bassline. Not to mention TJ Tindall‘s insane rhythm guitar part [More…]
The late 70’s / early 80’s most likely saw Quincy Jones‘s name on everyone’s lips productionwise. From Rufus & Chaka Khan‘s ‘Do You Love What You Feel’ to The Brothers Johnson‘s ‘Stomp’. Not to mention the production of Michael Jackson‘s albums, ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Thriller’. Jones nevertheless took the time to deliver an album – ‘The Dude’ – on his own. Featuring gems such as his cover version of Chas Jankel‘s ‘Ai No Corrida’ and the Rod Temperton penned ‘Razzmatazz’. Not to mention the soothing ‘Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me’ featuring the sultry Patti Austin…
“Is it, is it, is it in?” It most definitely was (and still is). With this bumpin’ bassline driven gem standing as the last in an impressive series of hot jams by the likes of Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne. In the footsteps of classics such as ‘Gimme Some’, ‘Get Happy’ and ‘Spank’. Not to mention ‘Dance Across The Floor’ and ‘You Get me Hot’ among others. The whole with production work courtesy of Howard Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of the K.C. & The Sunshine Band fame.
On one side, we have Armenta and on the other, Majik. Although this gem also appeared as only credited to Armenta. The latter first appeared as a member of Forecast back in 1982. Meanwhile Majik‘s ‘You Gotta Get Up’ (also) received support from WBLS‘s Frankie Crocker that same year. With the boiling ‘I Wanna Be With You’ receiving the same treatment 3 years after. Behind these releases, no other than the Bayyan family (Amir, Adil and Royal), remembered for their strong connection with Kool & The Gang.
Not as famous as ‘Ten Percent’, ‘Everyman’ or ‘My Love Is Free’, ‘I Got The Hots (For Ya)’ has a special flavor to me. I first heard it back in the day under the form of a little snippet which WBLS mixed along with others on their famous jingles at the time. I nevertheless never knew who did it until the moment I visited my friend Aldo at Manhattan’s A1 Records more than 20 years after. Asking him if he had an idea as to who sung this ‘I Got The Hots’ thing. And Holy Grail, he had a (promo) copy of it. No need tellin’ you how it was not long before I put it in my record bag…