Top 5: Ultimately, the Groove

We didn’t know it at the time, but the spring of 1975 looks now to have been the golden age of the flute. At WABC in New York City and at other stations around the country, several of the top singles during the week of May 13, 1975, prominently featured the flute. Really. And why not? Jethro Tull had dominated the album chart earlier in the year with War Child. Now it was the singles chart’s turn.

3. “Walking in Rhythm”/The Blackbyrds (up from 4). As stylish as mid-70s R&B got. Although “Walking in Rhythm” was their biggest pop hit, the Blackbyrds crossed over from the R&B chart on several other occasions. If you know any one of their other hits, it’s probably either “Happy Music” or “Rock Creek Park.”

7. “The Hustle”/Van McCoy (down from 6). McCoy’s involvement in the music biz as a producer and songwriter went back to 1956, when he was still a teenager; his first single under his own name came out in 1959. But it wasn’t writing “Baby I’m Yours” that made him internationally famous—it was this record. Trivia question: Which came first—the hustle or “The Hustle”? Answer below.

11. “Hijack”/Herbie Mann (down from 8). The veteran flutist (flautist?) had moved from straight jazz to R&B-inflected pop jazz in the early 1970s, what we might call smooth jazz now, although the term didn’t exist in 1975. His mid-70s album titles, Discotheque and Waterbed, make his intentions pretty clear. On “Hijack,” Mann’s piccolo (piccolo?) is secondary to the vocal chorus, the clavinet, the synths, and ultimately, the groove.

And now, from the non-flute section of the WABC survey:

13. “How Long”/Ace (up from 17). Flute, nothin': I have been thinking for years about a post on the electric piano sound so prevalent in the 1970s, and if I ever write it, I’ll include this.

“Express/BT Express. Page through the WABC surveys at Musicradio77.com and you’ll see that their numbering system varied widely over the years. In the mid 70s, the station numbered only some of the records on the survey and listed others it was playing without showing their chart positions. For this week, “Express” is one of them. I’m including it because there’s got to be a flute on it somewhere.

And now, the answer to the trivia question: Philadelphia and New York club DJ David Todd is credited with telling Van McCoy about a dance called the Hustle, which was notable in 1975 because it was a partner dance. (We learned how to do it in PE class in what must have been the fall of 1975.) McCoy whipped up “The Hustle” in less than an hour. It was the last track recorded for his Disco Baby album but today it’s the only thing of his that anyone remembers, apart from geeks like me (and, probably, you). McCoy is said to have disliked being pigeonholed as a disco performer/producer, but according to his biography at Allmusic.com, he’d been in the forefront of major trends for nearly 20 years, so he was likely headed in that direction even without “The Hustle.” (McCoy died of a heart attack in 1979, just shy of his 40th birthday.)

“The Hustle” sounded great on the radio and still does—and it’s fun to play on the radio, too. Here’s a video somebody manufactured at YouTube, putting the record to what looks to me like unrelated footage from Soul Train. But watch it anyhow, for the moves, the fashions, and ultimately, the groove.

(This is the 1300th post in the history of this blog. Few people have erected themselves so grand a monument to time spent fooling around. My thanks to all for reading.)

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5 responses

  1. I just heard “Rock Creek Park” a few Saturday nights ago on our college jazz.R&B oldies station. A heavily sampled number per Wikipedia; I wish I could immediately place the Massive Attack cut that uses it. “Walking in Rhythm” has always been an instant-smile tune for me.

    “How Long” may not exactly make me smile, but it does make me feel good, and I’ve tackled it at karaoke more than once. Of course, it’s secondary to Squeeze’s “Tempted” on the list of Paul Carrack’s crowning achievements. (Please tell me Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost” will make your electric-piano post. That intro is so simple yet so epic.)

    Congrats on entry #1300! I’ll watch one of my Soul Train DVDs this weekend…one with a 1976 episode if I have one…in your honor.

  2. Another unusual flute-related highlight from the spring of 1975: The Grateful Dead recorded “Sage and Spirit,” an uncharacteristic acoustic-guitar-and-flute instrumental that would be released on the “Blues for Allah” album that September.
    I tell ya, Bob Weir must have been paying secret attention to the boss pop sounds.

    Electric pianos may be even cooler than electric guitars. I look forward to that post, if you decide to throw your arms around the topic.

  3. 1,300 posts, eh? My, that is quite an erection. ;-)

  4. BT Express was better known for Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied) from 1974. Not only did BT Express use a flute in their music, but a clarinet and five different types of saxophones, as well.

  5. Flutes were also were right before, in late 1974’s “Bungle in the Jungle” by Jethro Tull.

    The LP verison of “Walking in Rhythm” by The Blackbyrds has four, rather tahn three successive choruses, and two bridges successivley ["It's been so long".."since I've seen her" and the "since I've kissed her"...]. The single only had three choruses and one bridge by itself [this before te instrumental break, which was the same on oth 45 and LP--the two bridges in succession as mention are repeated on the LP, likewise the "since I've seen her" bridge by itself again after the break on the single, faded as well.].

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