Top 5: You Can Call Me Steve

During the 1960s, KATZ in St. Louis was one of the top black music stations in the country. Several of its personalities remain legends in St. Louis today among those who remember the era, including Robert B. Q., Donny “Soul Finger” Brooks, and Lou “Fatha” Thimes. During the first part of the 1960s, its most famous program was Night Beat Down Rhythm Street, which broadcast from various clubs in the city. By 1968, as best I can tell, the program was either confined to weekends or a part of history, since it’s not mentioned on the KATZ survey dated April 25, 1968.

On the air that week were a handful of songs that crossed over to the pop charts, but the majority of the station’s music would have gone largely unheard by pop listeners. Here’s a look at some of both.

1. “Tighten Up”/Archie Bell and the Drells (up from 11). People asked Archie Bell what it was like to have the Number One song in the country, and he’d say he didn’t know. He’d written and recorded “Tighten Up” before going on military duty in Germany, where he spent the record’s entire chart run. He’d play shows and record during trips home on leave, and during one of those shows, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were in the audience. Bell and the Drells recorded for Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International well into the 1970s. Here’s a live performance of “Tighten Up,” with sketchy audio and video, from sometime in the late 60s:

(“Tighten Up” was the second record I ever played on the radio. Someday I’ll have to blog about the first one.)

2. “Cowboys to Girls”/Intruders (down from 1). And speaking of Gamble and Huff, the Intruders were one of their first projects as independent producers before forming Philadelphia International. “Cowboys to Girls” is one of the earliest examples of the Philly soul sound that would dominate the radio in the early 70s, although the Intruders found themselves bypassed in music history by the likes of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and the O’Jays. Also worth seeking out: “Love Is Like a Baseball Game” and the insanely great “I’ll Always Love My Mama.”

3. “I Guess That Don’t Make Me a Loser”/Brothers of Soul (up from 4). This Detroit group lived on the fringes of the bigtime, doing backing vocals together and separately at Motown and later, at Holland/Dozier/Holland’s Hot Wax label. Fred Bridges later became the Four Tops’ road manager. A biography of Bridges and his various groups from Soulful Detroit is worth reading to get a sense of the astounding variety of the Detroit music scene in the 1960s, when there was a recording studio on every block.

4. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”/Magnificent Men (up from 6). The Magnificent Men were the only white group to tour with the Motortown Revue, the early-60s package tours that featured prominent Motown stars, and they were the first white headliners at the Apollo Theater, in 1964. They later backed James Brown at the same venue. Some soul-music DJs were reportedly displeased when they discovered that the Men were white; a guy in Los Angeles is said to have smashed one of their records and mailed it back to the record company in pieces.

21. “Hate Yourself in the Morning”/Steve Mancha (debut). Mancha was another prominent Detroit figure of the 1960s and 1970s. His real name was Clyde Wilson, and he would later front 100 Proof Aged in Soul, which scored a Top-10 hit with “Somebody’s  Been Sleeping” in 1970. At the same time, 100 Proof cut a song called “She’s Not Just Another Woman,” which Hot Wax also wanted to release as a single. So as not to undercut the other record, it was released under the group name The 8th Day, and it made Number 11 on the pop charts in the summer of ’71—one of the purest deep-soul records ever to climb so high. As for “Hate Yourself in the Morning,” I know nothing. If you know anything, help a brother out.

The KATZ call letters remain on the air today. On AM, it’s a gospel station; on FM, it’s a hip-hop station. But there’s no way either one could sound quite as soulful as KATZ must have sounded 41 years ago.

“I Guess That Don’t Make Me a Loser”/Brothers of Soul (still in print, amazingly enough—buy it here)

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