Thursday, January 30, 2014

Take Me In Your Arms

If you’ve read my previous post about the Hues Corporation, then you’ll be aware all ready about at least part of the George McCrae story.  But even if you have, please read on to discover more about the man and his music.

George McCrae was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1944.  He became passionate about music whilst still at high school and performed vocals in a couple of groups - the Fabulous Stepbrothers, and the Jiving Jets.  The latter included his future wife Gwen.  During the mid 60s, McCrae served in the U.S. Navy for four years, and in between naval manoeuvres formed another band, called Atsugi Express.  After George and Gwen had been married and started a family, both were signed to Henry Stone’s Alston label in 1969 (George also became Gwen’s manager).  They laid down several tracks as a duo but success eluded them.  Gwen left the label and signed with Columbia, whilst George elected to focus on managing Gwen’s career, and study criminal justice.

But the lure of the microphone proved too strong and by 1974 George McCrae had returned to the fold at Henry Stone’s T.K. label.  Also on the T.K. creative roster were a pair of song writers and budding musicians, Harry Casey and Richard Finch.  Though the pair had passionate ambitions for a career in music, their day jobs at this time were less glamorous - warehouse and studio duties.  Whenever they could, Casey and Finch fitted in studio time to both produce and record music, including for the likes of Betty Wright and Jimmy (Bo) Horne.  The duo had penned a song that they felt their own vocals couldn’t do justice to, and as they had recently released a single of their own (“Sound Your Funky Horn”), they decided to offer the song to someone else to record.

With a demo recorded in under 45 minutes, Casey and Finch took the instrumental version of ‘Rock Your Baby’ to play for T.K. A&R chief Steve Alaimo, and owner Henry Stone.  They got the thumbs up to record the track proper.  They had two vocalists in mind that they felt could do the song justice; Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne, and George McCrae.  As it happened McCrae called into the T.K. studio the very next day and gave the instrumental track a listen.  It took just two takes for George McCrae to make ‘Rock Your Baby’ his own.

After being added to the play list of influential top 40 radio station, WABC, ‘Rock Your Baby’ started to attract attention, and hit the Hot 100 in early June of ‘74.  By mid July it was being played on dance floors across the nation and ascended all the way to #1, replacing the Hues Corporation’s ‘Rock The Boat’ (see separate post).  ‘Rock Your Baby’ had R&B roots but was all over an early disco hit, delivering the second of two punches delivered on the charts immediately following ‘Rock The Boat’.  ‘Rock Your Baby’ stayed at #1 for two weeks, before being replaced by John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’.  It rocked its way to #2 on the Australian charts, but went one better on the U.K. charts finding a #1 audience for three weeks (holding off both glam rock and early punk challengers), replacing ‘She’ by Charles Aznavour, and in turn replaced by ‘When Will I See You Again’ by the Three Degrees.

Under the production auspices of Harry Casey and Richard Finch, McCrae laid down enough tracks for an eponymous debut album.  Though failing to make an impact Stateside (#152, R&B#24), the album found an eager audience in both Australia (#26) and Britain (#13).  A second single, ‘I Can’t Leave You Alone’ (UK#9/OZ#92), further consolidated McCrae’s profile in Britain, whilst ‘You Can Have It All’ (UK#23) rounded out a hugely successful 1974.

The U.K. continued to be the most lucrative market for McCrae during 1975, yielding three top forty hits; ‘Sing A Happy Song’ (#38), ‘It’s Been So Long’ (#4), and ‘I Ain’t Lyin’ (#12).  McCrae also found time to sing backing vocals on wife Gwen’s 1975 US#9 (#1 R&B hit) ‘Rockin’ Chair’.

By the time McCrae’s 1976 album, ‘Diamond Touch’ was recorded, producer Gregg Diamond was guiding proceedings - due to Harry Casey and Richard Finch being preoccupied as principal members of KC & the Sunshine Band (see future post).  The single ‘Honey I’ cracked the U.K. top 40 (#33), but though the album featured plenty of disco rhythms and romantic soul, it failed to make an impact on the charts.  With both George and Gwen having scored top ten hits, it seemed logical to combine their talents as a duo.  1976’s ‘Together’ did just that (US R&B #33).

It seems an injustice that one of the pioneers of the disco movement, George McCrae failed to cash in on the runaway disco train of the late 70s.  He had just one hit during that period, ‘Don’t You Feel My Love’ (US#25 Dance Music chart), lifted from the 1979 album ‘We Did It’.

By the 1980s, George McCrae had relocated to Europe, Holland to be precise, but despite a steady output of recorded material, McCrae only broke into the charts one more time with ‘One Step Closer (To Love)’ (UK#57) during 1984.  Over the next 25 years, McCrae surfaced only a handful of times with the albums ‘Romance’ (1995), ‘Love’s Been Good To Me’ (2003), and ‘Time For A Change’ (2009).

But his career will be best remembered as having been at the vanguard of the disco movement.

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