Thursday, July 4, 2013

Rock the Boat, Hues Corporation (1974)

Before we begin, I'd like the record to show that I hold my grocery store responsible for the following post. I've mentioned before that it pipes baby boomer music into the shopping experience at all times, a practice I'm very much in favor of as it puts me in a good mood even when I'm not.

So earlier this week, a song that, regardless of when I hear it, always takes me back to a specific time and place had me movin' and groovin' while I was picking up the essentials. It's a song that some will probably judge me for including in the blog. It's a song that some say heralded the birth of disco by being the first radio hit in that genre. It's a song that was at the top of the charts during this coming week in 1974. It's Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation. And its calypso stylings never fail to make me happy.

My college boyfriend and I had just moved to the Washington D.C. area (specifically Tacoma Park, Maryland) to bag our first post-graduation jobs. Hahahahaha. For those of you who aren't baby boomers, just know that a zillion of us were dumped in the job market just as the economy went to hell in a handbasket and it took a while to actually get jobs where we could put our educations to good use. And neither of them were in Washington D.C., I assure you.

We were on our own, though, and feeling sort of adult-like. Watergate was in full flower and in just another month Nixon would slink out of office in disgrace. Music was definitely in a state of flux and going in directions not entirely pleasing. Rock the Boat was on the radio ALL THE TIME. There were other songs I associate with that period, but this one is steeped in it.

What was so great about this song? I may have just discovered at least part of the reason - the bass player was none other than James Jamerson! At first I didn't believe it, but Motown at that point had moved to L.A., and I'm seeing this reference everywhere, so let's just go with that for now. It certainly would explain a lot. Just another one of the many things he never got credit for while he was alive.

But the song really wasn't a disco song when it first came out. In 1973, it was just one cut on Hues Corporation's first R&B album Freedom for the Stallion. (The title song had previously been recorded by Lee Dorsey, and was written by the inimitable Allen Toussaint but it didn't get much traction.) Rock the Boat was released as a single early in 1974 to follow up Freedom for the Stallion, and then a funny thing happened. The dance clubs in New York City started playing it, people started demanding it and it stampeded up the charts - disco by association. 

Hues Corporation's song still brings happiness to the populace - here they are much, much later (in 2004), still shaking their tail feathers while the crowd undulates with delight. Probably a very rewarding feeling for a group that got its first taste of success as an uncredited funky soul group in the 1972 blaxploitation film Blacula.

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