Yes, this is the year
To make your decision
(We gotta get it together)
Yes this is the year
To open up your mind.
Gamble & Huff 1973
On New Year’s Eve, for the first time since I started up again, I was deejaying as one year passed into the next. Although I’ve had bookings every New Year’s Eve since 2004, I’ve always played after midnight, but this year I made 2 separate appearances in London, the first at the Slide & Get Diverted party in the Brixton Clubhouse between 11pm and 1am (my later date, from 3am and 5am would be over in Greenwich at the Defected event at Proud2 in the O2 Arena).
Back in the 70’s, like pretty much every other DJ of the time, I’d bring in the New Year with ‘Auld Lang Syne’, as was traditional as 12 o’clock struck. The version I used was from an album called ‘Celebration Party Dances (For Every Occasion)’ by the British bandleader Victor Silvester, which was an indispensable mobile disco LP back then, covering the type of stuff the older folk of that generation would have regarded as essential fuel for a proper knees-up.
During the 20 years I wasn’t a DJ I never went out to a club on New Year’s Eve, so it was with a tint of sadness that I realised that ‘Auld Lang Syne’ no longer got an airing, at least in the clubs where I was booked in to, the DJ instead selecting a classic oldie as their first tune of the year (T-Connection’s ‘At Midnight’ seemingly a popular choice). This is with the notable exception of one club night, the mighty Melting Pot in Glasgow, where I was pleased to hear tradition still preserved. Graeme Clark (The Revenge) was on, and although he didn’t play ‘Auld Lang Syne’, he marked the moment with a suitably Scottish Highland Reel.
Hogmanay is, of course, something the Scottish hold so dear, with the writer of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, Robert Burns, revered as the country’s most celebrated poet, and recently voted the greatest all-time Scot. The song has ushered in the New Year since the 1800’s, and stands strong as a poignant symbol of endings and new beginnings.
It’s opening line ‘Should auld / old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind’ reminds us of what came before, especially those friends and family no longer with us, who perhaps we once joined hands with at midnight in younger days. I think this link to the ancestors is important – looking back on where we came from and, in a sense, grounding ourselves before moving on into the year ahead and wherever destiny takes us. One day, of course, we’ll be the ancestors – we’re all part of life’s process, and in the future it’ll be us who will be ‘brought to mind’ by those who come after. Anyhow, before morbid sentimentality is levelled at me, I’d better lighten the mood and play out of this paragraph with a distinguished piper:
So, back to NYE and, knowing I was the midnight DJ, I was faced with the question of what to play? Ringing out the old and bringing in the new carries a weight of responsibility – you don’t want to get it wrong when the whole objective is setting the year off on the right footing. With all due respect to the DJ’s who do play ‘At Midnight’ at midnight, that would never be the tune for me. Don’t get me wrong, ‘At Midnight’ is a decent enough track, but it’s not specific to January 1st and wouldn’t be out of place on any other night of the year. I wanted something befitting of a special celebration that only comes around annually.
I thought about a track that might fit the bill, and remembered how I’d always enjoyed the positive message of ‘Year Of Decision’, an upbeat Philly Sound favourite that was the first UK hit for The Three Degrees, reaching #13 in 1974, just 3 months before the trio topped the chart with their most famous single, ‘When Will I See You Again’ (to complete a hat-trick, between these 2 singles they also saw chart success with a featured credit on MFSB’s ‘TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’, the anthem of this era defining label, and the theme tune for the seminal US TV show, ‘Soul Train’. In short, they were on a roll.
‘The Year Of Decision’ was written and produced by label founders Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, who were responsible for a phenomenal run of hits during Philadelphia International’s 1972-1977 heyday - just check out this wealth of Philly gold, all UK Top 40 hits, which the prolific duo both produced and wrote / co-wrote (22 in all): ‘Backstabbers’ / The O’Jays (1973), ‘Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love) / The O’Jays (1977), ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ / Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1977)’, ‘Get Your Love Back’ / The Three Degrees (1974), ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ / Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1973), ‘I Love Music’ / The O’Jays (1976), ‘I’ll Always Love My Mama’ / The Intruders (1974), ‘Let’s Make A Baby’ / Billy Paul (1976), ‘Long Lost Lover’ / The Three Degrees (1975), ‘Love Train’ / The O’Jays (1973), ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ / Billy Paul (1973), ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)’ / Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1974) ‘Sexy’ / MFSB (1975), ‘Show You The Way To Go’ / The Jacksons (1977), ‘Take Good Care Of Yourself’ / The Three Degrees (1975),‘Thanks For Saving My Life’ / Billy Paul (1974), ‘The Love I Lost’ / Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes (1974), ‘TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’ / MFSB Featuring The Three Degrees (1974), ‘When Will I See You Again / The Three Degrees (1974)’, ‘Win, Place Or Show (She’s A Winner)’ / The Intruders (1974) ‘Year Of Decision / The Three Degrees (1974) and ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ / Lou Rawls (1976). Leon Huff even found time to branch out on his own with the Funk anthem ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’ / Peoples Choice (1975).
Gamble & Huff’s work during the early-mid 70’s provided one of the main branches of the tree from which Disco grew. As the legendary JB’s / P Funk trombonist Fred Wesley famously said, ‘the Gamble & Huff style put a bow tie on the funk’.
So, ‘Year Of Decision’ was a strong possibility for my New Year tune, it both had the right message, and Disco association, but, given my feelings about ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and the whole custom that surrounds it, I found myself drawn towards playing it after all, with ‘Year Of Decision’ following on. Having fixed on this, I looked online for a suitable version and found one by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the pipe and drum ensemble who hit the top of the UK chart with their rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ in 1972. Starting out as a march, it rocks out after half a minute in a suitably rousing fashion. It’s total length was around 2 minutes, but I edited this down to 1.15, which was just enough, adding some signature samples over the top to give it a more bespoke feel, including Public Enemy’s request that ‘everybody in the house make some noise’ as the rock part kicked in, and the Cyrus spoken ‘can you dig it’ (x3) from the 1979 film ‘The Warriors’. As ‘Auld Lang Syne’ finished, ‘Year Of Decision’ took over.
I’d planned to embed a YouTube clip of ‘Year Of Decision’, but just checked and it’s frustratingly no longer available. It was a version I hadn’t heard before – an extension of the original, with a longer intro and a break ahead of the outro. It wasn’t the album version (which is the same length as the single), so I’d no idea where it was from. I made a few enquiries via a text to JJ from London-based Six Million Steps, a bona-fide 70’s Soul aficionado, and an email to New Yorker Jay Negron (aka J*ski), who’s just co-compiled the new album ‘Philadelphia International: The Re-Edits’, with my old mate Ian Dewhirst. Neither knew this version I’d found on YouTube, at which point I realised that it must be an un-credited edit that someone had put together, rather than an official version I was unaware of. I really liked the additional space of the extended intro and break, so I set about re-creating it myself (the break, as it turned out, was simply 4x4 bars taken from the intro). In the absence of the YouTube clip I’d intended, here’s my ‘A Quick New Year’s Message’ from SoundCloud, with the extended ‘Year Of Decision’ providing the soundtrack (excuse the voiceover at the intro):
Having made such an impact on the UK chart in 1973, The Three Degrees would go on to record a string of British hits throughout the decade, long after their popularity had waned Stateside. They parted company with Gamble & Huff / Philadelphia International in 1976, and their credibility suffered when Prince Charles announced them as his favourite group, and had them play at his 30th birthday party in 1978 (although his royal patronage made them darlings of the British media well into the 80’s, helping sustain their career long past it's US sell by date). Sadly, a group who had once worked with the great Gamble & Huff, would be reduced to recording with British producers, Stock, Aitkin & Waterman, who swamped the chart with syrupy formulaic hits throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, via Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Sonia, Rick Astley etc (The Three Degrees best SAW placing being a disappointing #42 for ‘The Heaven I Need’, in 1987 – the last of their 12 UK Top 50 hits, 13 including their featured role on ‘TSOP’).
So, with this important decision arrived at, on the stroke of midnight all those congregated in the Brixton Clubhouse celebrated our entry into 2012 with ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and the room suitably bounced. ‘Year Of Decision’ then followed and I dug back into the 70’s for a while, re-connecting with days long passed, before moving on to some more recent favourites.
I believe this really is a year of decision for many of us – a time to re-assess our aims and objectives and set them into motion, not through some lacklustre resolution we're going to have forgotten well before February, but through necessity.
Issues of recession, corruption and abuse of power, race, religion, riots and revolution play out at home and overseas, and whereas in recent times the majority of the populace seem to have chosen to switch off to the bigger picture, preferring to sedate themselves with reality TV, talent shows, sports coverage and soap opera, an ever growing amount of people are waking up to the harsher realities and seeing the world more objectively as a result, with the ‘Chinese curse’, ‘may you live in interesting times’, taking on a new contemporary resonance.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep focus amidst the chaotic fog of information overload, which Facebook, Twitter and other social networks churn out at breakneck pace – it’s impossible to keep up with everything going on, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s no doubt we’re being sucked into the future at speed, so hold on tight, it could be a bumpy ride, a turbulent time for a lot of people. But remember, on the other side of the coin, this will also enable opportunity for others.
I’m a glass half-full type, so, despite being disturbed by much of what I see going on, I feel that once the dust has settled, things will work themselves out for the better. We’re still trying to figure out how to adapt to this cyber-existence, and it may serve us well to keep remembering that there’s a real world out there, with real people, not just Facebook friends. I’m fortunate that my work takes me into contact with a wide range of people, from different parts of the globe. I feed off this human energy, and am able to reciprocate via the music I play. I try to retain this personal connection, to the best of my ability, with my online interactions. I suppose that the part-human / part-machine cyborg future is already upon us, for our computers have become an extension of ourselves. With this in mind, I believe we need to keep the emphasis on the human, not the machine.
I hope that 2012 is kind to you, wherever you be, whatever you do. I certainly feel that this will be a telling time, as the ‘culture of steam’ moves ever closer to boiling point. Big changes are on the horizon for sure – it’s just a case of whether you’re someone to whom change is welcomed or change is feared, for this will inform the choices you make, and how you adapt to the unknown adventures ahead.
So, to quote ‘Auld Lang Syne’, I raise my ‘cup of kindness’ to you all (Baileys, if you wondered) and wish you peace, love, happiness and good times as the year unfolds.
Auld Lang Syne Wikipedia: