By 1978, the music, fashion and cultural juggernaut known as Soul Train had been on the air for seven seasons and had featured more than 300 musical guests on its stage, at least 150 Soul Train lines on the dance floor and no less than 5 different theme songs along the way (as heard in the video above), including my favorite, MFSB’s “TSOP” with vocals from The Three Degrees, used from 1973-1975:
I’ve been on the Soul Train stage and had my picture taken standing beneath the iconic logo. Kind of. When I won a 3 Day/2 Night trip to Hollywood in a music trivia contest, part of the prize package was a VIP tour of Paramount Studios. My wife and I, along with three others, took the tour where we saw nearly a dozen stars walking between various studios and sets. One of the sets we visited had a small stage with the Soul Train logo hanging above it. After the rest of the tour group moved on, we stayed back, so my wife could take a picture of a very happy me up on that stage. Unfortunately, we lost the camera before we left town otherwise you’d be looking at that picture right now. In honor of my great lost adventure and to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of 1978, I’ve rounded up a few of the many songs that were performed on Soul Train in 1978, during the last nineteen episodes of Season 7 and the first twenty episodes of Season 8. Thanks to Dr. Boogie, EVERY SINGLE ONE of these songs is heard on B100.fm.
A cover of Shuggie Otis’s mostly acoustic original from 1971, producer Quincy Jones and The Brothers Johnson amped up the quiet funk groove and the wonderful silky-sounding yet inscrutable lyrics and rode the single all the way to the top of the R&B chart in July 1977. Over on the Pop chart, the song made it to #5. A twelve-inch single Disco Version (actually the full-length 5:08 album version) of “Strawberry Letter #23”, with their earlier hit “Get The Funk Outta My Face” on the flip, was pressed on red vinyl tucked inside a cardboard sleeve infused with a strawberry scent. The Brothers also performed “Right On Time” and “Runnin’ For Your Lovin'” on this episode of Soul Train and would appear on the show seven months later, performing three songs from their 1978 album, Blam!.
A week before his appearance on Soul Train, Bill Withers performed “Lovely Day” on American Bandstand and the impact of both appearances barely manifested itself on the Pop chart the following week, where the single peaked way too low at #30. Over on the R&B chart, “Lovely Day” managed a much more respectable #6 but I’ve loved the song since I first heard it on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 back on January 21, 1978, where it debuted at #35 up from the previous week’s #42*. That’s right, I heard “Lovely Day” that morning on the countdown and then had the pleasure of seeing it on American Bandstand that afternoon and then again on Soul Train the following weekend. That note Withers holds for 18 seconds – though it sounds much, much longer – leaves me breathless when I try and sing along.
*While “Lovely Day” was at #42 on Billboard’s Hot 100 the week of January 14, 1978, another song featuring the same guitarist and bassist was debuting at #73, the highest of the eight chart debuts that week. The guitarist was Ray Parker, Jr., the bassist was Jerry Knight, their group was Raydio and their song was “Jack & Jill”.
Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that Odyssey appeared on the same episode with Bill Withers, making it one of the best Soul Train episodes ever from where this fan is sitting, some forty years after it first aired. Unlike Withers though, Odyssey enjoyed a chart bump after their Soul Train appearance as “Native New Yorker” moved up to #26 from #29 the week before on its way to a peak of #21 on the Pop chart. Though WLS (my primary station from 1975-1980) added the song to their playlist in early 1978, I remember listening to “Native New Yorker” on K-Tel’s Music Magic more often than ever hearing it on the radio.
L.T.D. stands for Love Togetherness And Devotion but I like to think it stands for Listen To Dance which is especially the case with the group’s Number One R&B single, “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again”. The single, with a minute trimmed from the 4:44 album version, is great but, for maximum pleasure, seek out the rare 8:37 Special Disco Version (aka 12″ Mix), a Top 20 single on the Disco chart. Jeffrey Osborne’s voice was unlike anything I had ever heard and that rhythm track absolutely compels you to get up offa that thing and shake what you got. Fortunately for us, there is a video online of the group’s performance that day on Soul Train, complete with Don Cornelius (speaking of unique voices) interviewing the guys before they begin to play.
Bobby’s B100.fm sets itself apart from other internet stations with music AND fun. So it’s only natural that Con Funk Shun’s “Ffun”, another Number One R&B single, is in the station’s rotation. The band is cut from the same funky cloth as other large R&B and funk bands like Brass Construction, Ohio Players or Lakeside to name but a few. “Ffun” appears right after “Native New Yorker” on that Music Magic album I mentioned earlier but if you’re looking for even more “Ffun”, there is a six-minute promo only Special Extended Version out there you might want to seek out, either snapping up the original vinyl promo twelve inch or one of a couple import CD compilations the song appears on.
By the time Wild Cherry showed up on the Soul Train stage in April 1978, their double platinum chart-topping song “Play That Funky Music”, originally released in April 1976, had been off the charts for nearly sixteen months. But the band’s primary objective that day wasn’t to promote that old song; they were there to hype their latest single “I Love My Music” from their album of the same name. It was only after they flogged “I Love My Music” that Wild Cherry encored with “Play That Funky Music”. You might remember that there two versions of the single: the original with the chorus “Play That Funky Music White Boy” and the edited one with “White Boy” removed. Both versions were nearly two whole minutes shorter than the 5:00 album version.
My wife and I attended a corporate function down in South Beach in the late 1990s and when we showed up for one evening’s soirée about 15 minutes early, we were greeted by the DJ’s first two songs of the night, the Lou Rawls classic “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” and the equally classic “Use Ta Be My Girl”. While both songs are 111 beats per minute, they do not share the same key. The former is in D major while the latter is D flat making them incompatible when harmonic mixing. Still, my wife and I enjoyed a little romantic alone time out on the dance floor lost in each other’s eyes before other conference attendees began showing up.
Is it that sparkling voice, those incessant handclaps or the sax riffs that punctuate the song that make it so irresistible? I’ll take all three, thank you very much. Recorded when she was just sixteen-years-old, “Shame” highlights Evelyn’s soulful strength and her emotional vulnerability while belying her youth and inexperience. The song also highlights Sam Peake’s sax throughout. Like all disco records that cross over from the dance floor to the Pop chart, “Shame” was available in several lengths to meet different needs: the original album version clocked in at 4:43 while a twelve-inch Disco Mix kept it up for 6:33 and the 2:55 single edit was carved out of the Disco mix. During her appearance on this, the ninth episode of Soul Train Season 8, King also performed her new single, the follow-up to “Shame”, entitled “I Don’t Know If It’s Right”.
Like “Play That Funky Music”, “Disco Inferno” was originally released in 1976. And like “Play That Funky Music”, “Disco Inferno” was off the charts by the time The Trammps made their Soul Train appearance. BUT “Disco Inferno” had two separate chart runs: an initial one in 1977, when it peaked at #53 on the Pop chart in April before falling off after a 9 week stay and then a second chart run early in 1978, peaking at #11 in April (again) in the midst of a 20 week stint, after being included on the mega-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The single is 3:35 of deep groove but it absolutely pales in comparison to the damn near eleven-minute never-ending album version, which was wisely selected as the final track on Saturday Night Fever.
“Grease” was, is and will always be the word (though for some ‘The Bird’ is the word.) Frankie Valli used his appearance on Soul Train to promote his latest album with two songs: The Barry Gibb co-write “Save Me, Save Me” was the single and “You Can Do It” was the album track. Valli performed “Grease” as well because, through the rare miracle of record label cooperation, the song appeared on Frankie Valli…Is The Word, his new album, as well as the Grease soundtrack, where it is both the first and last song on the double-album. Valli surrounded himself with three dancing background vocalists – a male and two females – for his performance on Soul Train.