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I've Got The Best: August's Good Grooves
A deep dive into tunes by Andraé Crouch, Tramaine Hawkins, Cissy Houston, Russ Taff and Dr. Morgan Babb
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In June, I began curating a monthly hour of music for SoulAndJazz.com called Church of the Good Groove. The latest edition went live last week and I wanted to share it here and expand a few of the selections! To listen to this month’s playlist, click here.
Andraé Crouch (featuring Philip Bailey)—I’ve Got The Best—from I’ll Be Thinking Of You (1979)
While Crouch was viewed as one of the most contemporary artists in gospel, his productions merely flirted with disco (most overtly with 1976’s “Perfect Peace”), but never really went directly there…until this. With the right kind of mix (perhaps by Walter Gibbons or Larry Levan), “I’ve Got The Best” could have gone the distance and had a life on dance floors, but unlike Tramaine’s #1 dance hit, “Fall Down,” which was five years away, the track was mixed conservatively, downplaying the plunking bass and kicking drums, instead amplifying the vocals, keys (by Andraé and Michael Omartian) and percussion (notably tambourine) by his sister, Sandra, and Lenny Castro.
Despite these concessions, Crouch still suffered much in terms of public perception. As this album was being released, he signed a deal with Warner Brothers that some saw as a signal of imminent departure from the church. ”Whatever it takes to reach out with the message, that’s what I’m going to do, and I don’t care what people in the church say,” Crouch told Contemporary Christian Music in 1979 as I’ll Be Thinking of You made its way onto store shelves.
2. Tramaine Hawkins—The Rock—from Freedom (1988)
Tramaine’s second A&M release, Freedom, lacked the punch of 1986’s triumphant but controversial The Search Is Over. While “The Rock” didn’t chart nearly as high as “Fall Down (Spirit of Love)” had, it was still a club favorite with a 12” single mixed by the Paradise Garage’s Larry Levan. In an interview with Oakland’s Tribune in 1990, she reflected on this period and said that she survived the controversy with “family and friends who stood by me and understood the road God had allowed me to go. I knew that I had done nothing wrong and that I still maintained my relationship with God. I did not compromise that.”
In 2021, I wrote one of this newsletter’s most read features about Tramaine’s important crossover period. If you’re new to God’s Music Is My Life and haven’t read it yet, I hope you will!
3. Cissy Houston with the Sweet Inspirations—Shake Yourself Loose—Single Release (2005)
In 2005, The Sweet Inspirations were recording their first album since 1979’s Hot Butterfly. The recording was being documented by Victor Mignatti for a film (This Time) which chronicled the group’s process of reconstruction. It also included a reunion with their founding member, Cissy Houston, who left the group in 1969.
Producers Dynamix, Eddie Cumana and Peitor Angell had the brilliant idea of taking Vickie Winans’ “Shake Yourself Loose” and giving it the club treatment it deserved when Winans recorded it had Verity cared to market it outside of the gospel market.
While The Sweets are a bit muted in the mix, the fire is still there…and Cissy Houston delivers a vocal no less churchified than she did in her own disco heyday with 1978’s “Think It Over.” I wrote an homage to Cissy Houston earlier this year. In case you missed it, here it is!
4. Russ Taff—I’ve Come Too Far—from Medals (1985)
There’s nothing I love more than introducing people to music they’ve never heard before and watching them fall in love with it. This tweet made my day! Russ Taff’s cover of Roby Duke’s “I’ve Come Too Far” is one of my all-time favorite recordings. Between the funky, funky groove, Tata Vega’s background vocals and Russ’ soulful delivery, it’s a classic in my book.
The album from which the song comes is one of 1985’s best albums, period. CCM wrote, “It combines the high tech, glossy R&B of Hall & Oates with an uncompromising lyric vision.” Last summer, I wrote this feature about it to accompany my interview with Russ’ co-writer (and spouse!) Tori. I’m thrilled to see that it’s become one of the the Top 10 most-read articles here.
5. Rev. Morgan Babb with the Twenty-First Century Singers—Pray For Me—from Sings Pray for Me and Other Favorites (1978)
I’m preparing to moderate a panel discussion at the National Museum of African-American Music in September about Nashville’s most important gospel label, Nashboro Records, and one of the central artists we’ll be discussing is Rev. Dr. Morgan Babb (Click here to RSVP). When I moved to Nashville in 2001, I was completely unaware of his work, but when his son, Dale, began producing my music, I was quickly schooled on his importance.
Rev. Babb’s history with Nashboro went all the way back to the label’s inception in 1951. He was the label’s first A&R scout and one of the label’s earliest artists as part of The Radio Four. By the time he went in the studio with the Twenty-First Century Singers (Johnny Whittaker, Lula Jordan, Charles Miller and Frankie Henry) in 1978, he was already a legend; but his recording of Rev. Cleophus Robinson’s “Pray For Me” became one of his biggest hits. It’s a glorious seven minute build that showcases Babb’s power as a firestarter and the Twenty-First Century Singer’s ability to stoke the flames.
To listen to the entire Church of The Good Groove playlist, just click here!