GUYS HAVE GOT TO GIVE US SOMETHING WE CAN SELL'
- The Real Thing finally make it big
The Real Thing were like Britain's answer
to The Temptations, Britain's answer to The Four Tops. That's
the sort of stuff they were out there doing live. But put it on
record, and it never happened here.
I remember there was Clem Curtis and the Foundations - Clem's
still around - and they had a lot of hits. But basically they
used to record them type of bands like white bands. If you turned
on the radio and you heard an Equals record or a Clem Curtis and
the Foundations record, you'd think you were listening to a white
pop band. Eddy Grant didn't really develop his real serious music
identity until quite a while after The Equals, and then he really
came into his own. But in that era - late 60s, the very early
70s - most black bands in this country that were recorded were
recorded like white bands, and they sounded like white bands.
They used to record The Chants like a white pop band, which we
weren't. We weren't musically adept enough in them days to establish
what we really wanted ourselves - we weren't musicians then.
['You To Me
Are Everything'] was really my first big success in England. I
signed my first publishing deal in '71 and I had had a fair degree
of success in the US before The Real Thing - I'd had songs recorded
by Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson and Eugene Record.
The Real Thing was the only competent group around doing that
kind of stuff. So I got to know their manager, Tony Hall, very
well, and started taking songs to him, most of which he liked
and he was always very constructive. I kind of appreciated his
The Real Thing started out with three
people, then went to five, then they dropped two out and by 1975
they'd become a trio - Ray, Dave and Chris. But by then Chris
[Amoo] and I had started to write together. I wrote the first
three Real Thing singles. I was still with The Chants, but I was
writing for The Real Thing, because The Chants were no longer
a vehicle for the songs I was writing - The Chants were doing
cabaret, and The Real Thing were able to play these songs live,
so I was writing and giving the songs to Chris.
I wrote 'Vicious Circle', then 'Plastic Man', which almost made
it, and then a song called 'Daddy Dear', and they're all heavy
songs - if you listen to them lyrically, they're all really heavy.
And the fourth one that I wrote was called 'Joe McGinty'; really
it was called 'Civil War', but our manager made me change the
lyric and the title of the song, but basically it was about Ireland.
They weren't soul records, but they weren't rock records - they
were somewhere inbetween. I think the best way you could put it
is they were too original, too different for the mainstream. Now
round about this time the record company said: 'Look, you guys
have got to have a hit, you've got to give us something we can
sell.' And that's how come we recorded 'Stone Cold Love Affair'.
Tony Hall said, 'Look, can you get a song
for The Real Thing?' Gerry [Shury] had done the 'Plastic Man'
arrangement and said they were great singers, which I knew cos
I'd seen them. We wrote 'Stone Cold Love Affair' and said, 'Can
we produce it?' So we produced that one song. We got a turntable
success and a lot of radio plays. And the next person to come
into it was Ken Gold and he came up with that fantastic song,
and that was their sound.
We met up with this guy called Ken Gold,
who'd been trying to flog 'You To Me Are Everything' all over
London and been knocked back all over the place. And when we heard
it, we thought: this is a quasi-Barry White song, this'll keep
them off our backs. What happened with Ken was for the first time
we worked with somebody who didn't just allow us to throw our
voices on the way we wanted to. He wanted it done in a certain
way, which caused a little bit of friction in the studio, but
I took the song into Tony Hall and he
loved it. He said, 'I wish I could play it to Chris [Amoo]' and
about ten minutes later Chris walked in the door - he just happened
to be in London - and Tony said, 'Listen to this, it's a smash.'
And Chris loved it, so Tony said, 'I love what you've done on
the demo, do you want to produce it?' So I sat in his office that
afternoon, it was a Friday, and started to book the studio and
the musicians, and we were in the studio the following Tuesday
recording the backing-track.
I remember sending Tony Hall a telegram,
I was so overjoyed, when 'You To Me Are Everything' was a hit,
because I actually thought that was a great record.
Radio just took to it from the day of
release, and they were playing it to death, Radio One, and it
caught the public's imagination.
For a British soul group to have a hit
in England in the 70s, it had to be a quasi-soul record. It had
to sound like a soul record but have a very very strong pop overtone
- i.e. 'You To Me Are Everything'.
It's that kind of blend of soul/pop and
those kind of things for some reason always seem to do well In
'You To Me Are Everything' was very sweet.
What Gerry and I were trying to do with 'Stone Cold Love Afair'
was to get a commercial song, but also we tried to go to what
we thought were the group's roots, which were going towards Levi
Stubbs and The Temptations. Our melody and the idea lyrically
was to try to echo American soul, but these are British soul singers.
You just fell in love with his voice - great voice, gargled in
glass and stuff. That song was probably in its approach more soulful
than the one they followed it with, which was the better song
because everyone could play it.
'You To Me Are Everything', 'Can't Get
by Without You', 'Never Know What You're Missing', 'Love's Such
a Wonderful Thing' - they were all sort of aimed completely at
radio. They did happen in the clubs, but they were aimed at radio.
Which was how everyone was going and making records then.
The problem always with The Real Thing
themselves was the fact that they really wanted to be a little
more hard, a funk group. Which is all well and good, but then
they shouldn't really have done 'You To Me Are Everything' because
it's a straight pop/r&b track - there's no pretensions about
what it is.
I always knew that deep in their hearts they weren't really doing
what they wanted to do, even though they'd done 'You To Me Are
Everything' and it got to #1. It had given them the success they
wanted, but they wanted really to have that success with another
type of song. Something a bit less pop.
Sooner or later a serious black group
had to come along and break through, a serious black group that
was sellable to a huge white audience. And we were just lucky
to be at the right place at the right time.
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