Yeah, much of the later-decade disco was pretty deplorable, but early disco could be quite soulful.
George McCrae was such an artist.
Hailing from West Palm Beach, Florida, McCrae’s first group was the Jivin’ Jets in the early ’60s. The group ceased to exist in 1963 when he joined the Navy, but upon his return to civilian life, he reformed the band with the addition of his wife, Gwen. Eventually the two became a duo act, recording for Henry Stone’s Alston label. As time went on, Gwen became a solo artist and George became her manager in addition to doing some session work on his own.
That would have been the end of the story… George was about to go back to college to study law enforcement when he got a call from Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band, who were on Stone’s new label TK, and who were also from Florida. As the story goes, Finch and Casey had written a song for the band, but the melody was in a higher register then either of them could hit. They had originally asked Gwen to provide the vocals, but when she was late for the session, George stepped in and sang. Turns out that his voice suited the song perfectly.
And thus, “Rock Your Baby” became one of the first disco hits in 1974, selling over 11 million copies, topping charts in the U.S. and the U.K., and named the #1 song of the year in Rolling Stone. George was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocalist the following year.
The album Rock Your Baby contains eight other songs in addition to the title cut, all of which were penned by the same songwriting team of Finch and Casey. “Rock Your Baby” clocks in at a whopping 6:20 and is also given a reprise at the end of the album with another 2:05. Because the title cut was such a monster hit, the remainder of the record received minimal attention in comparison. Suffice it to say that they’re all cut from the same soul/disco cloth. “I Can’t Leave You Alone” and “It’s Been So Long” were both released as singles, hitting the U.K. Singles Top 10, but neither exploded the charts like “Rock Your Baby.”
George continued to record for TK throughout the ’70s. He performed with and managed Gwen until their divorce in 1976. The close of the ’70s saw McCrae re-married and living in Canada in semi-retirement. He released One Step Closer to Love in 1984 and the title track saw marginal chart activity overseas. He has since remarried again and moved to the Netherlands. He still performs regularly in Europe.
Here’s a vintage live video of George McCrae performing “Rock Your Baby.” Dig this and come by Lost & Found Records and grab this vintage vinyl.