Monday, October 27, 2008

A Pop Classic Redone With A Touch Of Ritz

By the time U.S. dance/disco group Ritz scored their one and only hit in Australia with their version of ‘The Loco-motion’, the song already had a stellar profile as one of the most successful songs in popular music history.

‘The Loco-motion’ was written by the prodigious song writing team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was first recorded by Little Eva and her version reached #1 in the U.S. for one week during August 1962 (with Carole King singing backing vocals), and #2 in the U.K. shortly after. American band Grand Funk (sans the Railroad) returned ‘The Loco-motion’ to the top of the U.S. charts in May 1974, this time for two weeks. Their version reached #7 in Australia around the same time.

The song would remain absent from both U.S. and U.K. charts until a ‘singing budgie’ from Australia gave the song her own treatment in 1987/88. But in between times Ritz released their own ‘disco-fied’ version of the song, released as ‘Locomotion’ in late 1979. Their adaptation peaked at #12 on the Australian charts in early 1980, and spent a total of thirty weeks inside the top 100. Though it didn’t make any kind of impact in the U.S. or Britain, Ritz’s ‘Locomotion’ did become a hit in the group’s native France, and a #1 in New Zealand, for a total of four weeks in mid 1980. The song was lifted from the group’s only album - I bet you can’t guess the title. Well, ok yeah you guessed it - ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’, though they avoided giving that particular song classic the disco-dance treatment. The album, produced by Ken Gold and released on Epic, also featured the single ‘Dance Until You Drop’ which missed seeing any chart action. The B-side to ‘Locomotion’ was a song called ‘Lazy Love’ (released in some markets as a separate single), which was penned by disco producer extraordinaire Desmond Child. Ritz were a black vocal trio, two male and one female singer. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to uncover anything definitive in terms of the names of the trio concerned - best I can discern from having a close look at the fuzzy, out of focus, and not 100% fully scanned album cover credits (I only have a vinyl single copy of the song), is that the female vocalist’s name was Sylvia Mason-James, and the male vocalist’s surnames were Nassiah and Jackson - though please don’t quote me on that. If anyone out there has an actual copy of the Ritz album ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ and can let me know the full names of the trio, I’d really appreciate it :)

Ritz released a couple of follow up singles during 1980 and 1981, but neither ‘I Wanna Get With You’ or ‘Workin’ Out’ managed to match the success of ‘Locomotion’. ‘I Wanna Get With You’ was co-written by Arthur Baker, who would later become a pioneering producer in the embryonic era of hip-hop. Over the next decade Baker worked with the likes of Gwen McCrae, New Edition, New Order and Naked Eyes (see future post).

The one time ‘singing budgie’ who would become an international ‘pop princess’ was Kylie Minogue. Her take on ‘The Loco-motion’, released as ‘Locomotion’ in Australia, peaked at #3 in the U.S. and #2 in the U.K. during 1988, having already spent a whopping seven weeks sitting atop the Australian singles chart from August 1987. It was the song that launched her now twenty plus year career.

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