It’s impossible to tell the story of the journey of popular music from the 1970s into the 1980s without referencing Frankie Crocker.
An industry standout for his work as radio programmer and disc jockey at WBLS in New York, Crocker became synonymous with the development of “urban contemporary” radio.
As such, it’s fitting that a “K-tel-style” compilation he produced, “Winners,” captures that moment:
When the energy of disco begins to fracture into glossy R&B and smooth jazz, the black adult contemporary sound of “quiet storm,” and the mass-appeal songs that manage to triumph over pop radio’s post-disco segregation. (What “Winners” doesn’t include is rap; despite the emergence of “Rapper’s Delight,” it may have been too early to know whether that sound would grow beyond its youthful base.)
Like “A Night at Studio 54,” reviewed a while back,“Winners” was a TV-promoted release via I&M Teleproducts.
Created by Ira Pittelman and Morris Levy, the label was a low-key rival of K-tel and Ronco.
(If K-tel and Ronco were the M&M’s and Reese’s Pieces of music compilations, I&M would be … Skittles?)
“Winners” is as much an artifact of marketing as it is music.
Its cover illustration of women of color clearly targets black consumers in an era when compilation albums tended to feature generic designs or – as in the case of K-tel’s “Right On!” or Ronco’s “Disco Super Hits” – photos or illustrations of white people.
As with most compilations, its cover copy could have benefited from a copy-edit.
In this case, “Do You Love What You Feel” is misattributed on the back to Rufus and Chaka “Kahn” rather than “Khan.” And even though by the time of this LP’s release in 1980, Ray Parker Jr. was getting his own lead credit, that wasn’t the case on the 1979 track “You Can’t Change That,” included here but attributed to “Ray Parker & Raydio.”
Nevertheless, “Winners” is aptly named. Four of its 15 tracks:
- The Commodores’ “Still,”
- Shalamar’s “The Second Time Around,”
- Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Special Lady,”
- and Rufus & Chaka’s “Do You Love What You Feel”
- all hit No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B charts.
Like those four, nine other tracks crossed over to the pop Top 40. And the only two selections not to do so still made the Hot 100:
- Carrie Lucas’ “Dance With You” (#70, 1979)
- and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Off the Lights” (#48, 1979).
Side A, noted as “specially sequenced for dancing,” does a fine job not just of keeping people on the floor but also stylistically linking the disco dazzle of The Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” or Isaac Hayes’ “Don’t Let Go” to the funk of “Do You Love What You Feel” and the chirpy R&B of Shalamar’s “The Second Time Around.” It’s a joy to listen to.
Anyone familiar with my regular defense of adult contemporary music might be surprised to hear me say this, but Side B fell a bit flat.
I fell asleep while listening to this side, only to be jolted awake by the “dun-dun, DUN-DUN” of Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” closing the side out.
I had wondered why Crocker hadn’t picked the likelier jazz/R&B cut “Déjà Vu” to represent Warwick.
But maybe he, too, sensed the inherent drama of Warwick’s comeback hit over the sultrier mood of her follow-up.
The songs on Side B were too much of a mellow thing, intentionally subset so that Side A could cook. Maybe listeners used Side B to slow dance and, shall we say, shift the mood? (I just went from A to zzzzz……)
With no real “yuck” tracks here, I’ll close with how I would have balanced these fast and slow “Winners.”
- “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”
- “Dance With You”
- Kool and the Gang’s “Too Hot”
- “Do You Love What You Feel”
- “Don’t Let Go”
- “Special Lady”
- “Turn Off the Lights”
- Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’”
- “The Second Time Around
- The Whispers’ “And the Beat Goes On”
- GQ’s “I Do Love You”
- The Spinners’ “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl”
- “You Can’t Change That”
- The Commodores’ “Still”
- “I’ll Never Love This Way Again”
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