After a chance meeting with a man walking his dog and a change of name to GQ in 1978, the lives of four musical veterans were forever changed. Later that year, when GQ released their debut single Disco Nights (Rock Freak) in December 1978. and it would reach number one in the US R&B Charts and sell over-one million copies. However, GQ were no overnight sensation. Instead, the success GQ were now enjoying was the result of a ten year musical journey which started back in 1968. Back then, GQ were known as Sabu and The Soul Survivors and since then, the road that GQ had travelled had been long and not without a few unexpected twists and turns. While other bands would’ve quit after struggling for ten years, GQ persevered. This perseverance was rewarded when, three months after releasing Disco Nights (Rock Freak), GQ released their debut album Disco Nights, which will be rereleased on 17th September 2012 by BBR Records. Disco Nights would become GQ’s most successful album, reaching number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. After I’ve told GQ’s musical journey, I’ll tell you about the music on Disco Nights.
Ten years before GQ released their debut single, three of the members of GQ formed the band that gave birth to GQ. This was Sabu and The Soul Survivors, who were formed in 1968. By the early seventies, Sabu and The Soul Survivors changed their name, becoming The Rhythm Makers, who primarily played funk. The Rhythm Makers released one album had one Hole In Your Side, which contained the jazz-funk hit Zone, which reached number ninety-two in the US R&B Charts and number four in the US Disco Charts in 1976. Then when drummer Kenny Banks left The Rhythm Makers, he was replaced by Paul Service. Now the lineup which would become GQ was complete. The lineup was now composed of bassist Keith “Sabu” Crier, who’d founded the group in 1968, plus lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Emanuel Rahiem LeBlanc, drummer Paul Service and keyboardist Herb Lane. With the lineup complete, The Rhythm Makers would meet a man who would play a huge part in finding them a record contract.
Tony Lopez first heard GQ playing at a club in New York. Although he was impressed by how talented The Rhythm Makers were, he’d no intention of becoming their manager. That changed when Tony came across the group practicing one night. He was walking his dog, heard music coming from a basement and knocked on the door. When he went into the basement, he realised this was the group he’d heard in the club. This would prove a fortuitous meeting for both parties. Although Tony was a teacher during the day, by night he promoted concerts. He began attending rehearsals and concerts. Then two things changed the fortunes of The Rhythm Makers.
It was Tony Lopez who suggested that The Rhythm Makers change their name to GQ. This was an acronym of Good Quality and an act of homage to the magazine and style bible GQ. A Chance of name resulted in a change of fortune for the four members of GQ. The second thing that changed GQ’s fortunes was when one night, Tony brought a musical contact along to a concert. His contact was Roberta Flack and straight away, Roberta Flack saw just how talented GQ were and started trying to get GQ a record deal. Roberta took GQ to Atlantic, but they were busy with their latest signing Chuck Berry. Eventually, Roberta contacted Larkin Arnold who played a huge part in Tavares, The Sylvers, Peabo Bryson and Natalie Cole’s success. Larkin Arnold was now Vice-President of R&B at Arista and auditioned GQ. Impressed with GQ, Larrkin signed GQ to Arista Records. Now GQ could begin work on recording their debut single..Disco Nights (Rock Freak).
On the release of Disco Nights (Rock Freak) in December 1978, it reached number one in the US R&B Charts, number three in the US Disco Charts and number twelve in the US Billboard 100. In the US, Disco Nights (Rock Freak) sold over one-million copies. With a million selling single, an album was needed and needed quickly. To produce GQ’s debut album Disco Nights, Jimmy Simpson, brother of Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson and Beau Ray Fleming were hired. Jimmy and Beau took GQ to one of America’s legendary studios to record Disco Nights, Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, where many albums released by Philadelphia International Records and Salsoul were recorded. At Sigma Sound, eight tracks were hurriedly recorded and ironically, would GQ’s most successful album.
Disco Nights featured eight tracks and was released in March 1979. It reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. The second single released from Disco Nights was Make My Dream A Reality was released in June 1979, reaching number eight in the US R&B Charts. I Do Love You, a cover of a Billy Stewart track, reached number five in the US R&B Charts and number forty-six in the US Billboard 100 on its release in July 1979. With three top ten US R&B singles, and top ten US R&B album in Disco Nights, GQ’s perseverance was rewarded. However, why was Disco Nights such a successful album?
Disco Nights (Rock Freak) was GQ’s debut single, reaching number one on the US R&B Charts, number three on the US Disco Charts and number twelve in the US Billboard 100. From the opening funky bars your hooked. A pounding, loping bass line, percussion combine before the rest of the rhythm section enter. Keyboards and shimmering synths give way to Emanuel Rahiem LeBlanc’s vocal as jazz, funk and disco are fused creating a timeless dance track. Tight harmonies sweep in, while the pounding, slap bass anchors the tracks and along with stabs of synths and keyboards a sonic tour de force unfolds. Later the tight harmonies become punchier, as Emanuel’s vocal drips with emotion. Still the sound is truly irresistible, while the production is innovative, ahead of its time for 1978. When this is combined with the track’s timeless hook-laden sound, it’s no surprise this track was such a huge commercial success.
GQ’s rhythm section combine with jazzy keyboards as Make My Dreams A Reality sees the direction of Disco Nights change course. A Philly Soul influence makes an welcome entrance. Emanuel delivers a heartfelt vocal accompanied by the type of harmonies you’d expect to hear on album recorded in Philly. While the harmonies are Philly-influenced, the arrangement is a fusion of funk, soul and jazz. Emanuel unleashes a vocal where power and passion are combine, against sweeping synths, a punchy, dramatic and funky rhythm section. While the funk and jazz of the previous track are present, the Philly Soul influence, especially those delicious harmonies is a welcome diversion and crucial to making this one of the Disco Nights’ highlights.
It’s Your Love is a slow ballad, where Emanuel, Keith, Paul and Herb all share and take turns of the lead vocal. WIth keyboards and the rhythm section keeping the tempo slow the four members of GQ demonstrate their vocal talents. They deliver some of the most beautiful harmonies on Disco Nights, while the arrangement is quite understated, with just chiming guitars, the rhythm section and keyboards combining. When the vocal drops out, a synth solo takes over, before GQ deliver some impassioned harmonies. Then when the vocal is traded, you get the opportunity to hear the contrasting vocals. Each vocal brings something to the track, while the arrangement grows, reflecting the drama and power of the heartfelt vocals. The result is a quite beautiful track, one that demonstrates just how versatile and talented GQ were. Considering this was their debut album, makes this even more remarkable.
Spirit was co-written by the four members of GQ and for many people, this is one of the best tracks on Disco Nights. GQ up the tempo and kick loose, after two slower tracks. Bursts of blazing horns, a dramatic, pounding rhythm section and keyboards give way to Emanuel’s vocal, which is a mixture of tenderness and power, while harmonies sweep in. All the time, stabs of horns and the thunderous rhythm section combine to create a pounding arrangement. Good as Emanuel’s vocal is, the harmonies are just as good, tight and heartfelt. A searing guitar solo, bursts of braying horns and keyboards see the arrangement combine elements of jazz and funk. Meanwhile Emanuel pleads for unity and understanding during this four-minute roller coaster comes to a dramatic ending and is indeed one of the best tracks on Disco Nights.
This Happy Feeling is another uptempo track that benefits from percussionist Sammy Figuroa’s considerable talents. To say this funky track bursts into life is almost a disservice. It’s a joyous explosion of music with the funkiest of bass lines and a myriad of percussion permanent fixtures. GQ’s rhythm section drive the track along, while Emanuel delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power, passion and joy. All the time sweeping harmonies augment his vocal, while keyboards add to the drama. Later, Sammy adds percussive break, before the arrangement rebuilds and GQ it’s a case of hold tight as GQ take you on the rest of this joyous journey where they fuse funk, jazz and soul.
As Wonderful reveals its secrets, there’s a brief Earth, Wind and Fire influence. After that, GQ make the track their own. Bursts of rasping horns, chiming guitars, washes of synths and the funky rhythm section combine before Emanuel’s impassioned vocal enters. He’s in love and wants to tell the world. The harmonies that accompany him are perfect, ranging from tight and soaring to doo wop-esque. Keith’s bass and Emanuel’s guitar both play important roles as another irresistible track unfolds. Like so many other tracks, this good time slice of funk has so much going for it. Not only is hook laden, but has a funky rhythm section, the tightest of harmonies and of course, Emanuel’s joyous, impassioned vocal.
A Taste of Honey enjoyed a huge worldwide hit with Boogie Oogie Oogie in 1978. GQ’s version doesn’t slavishly copy the original. Instead, it’s more like GQ paying homage to the track. The tempo is quicker as the track unfolds. A pounding rhythm section, washes of synths, chiming guitars are joined by bursts of vocal. They’re panned hard left and right, which is quite unusual, as mostly, the vocal sits in the centre. This works, adding to the drama. Unlike the original version, GG up the funky quotient. With GQ’s pounding rhythm section, tight harmonies, chiming guitars and keyboard, Emanuel vocal is a sassy, powerful vamp. Why the track was only released as a B-Side seems a missed opportunity, as this is irresistible good time funky music?
Do I Love You closes Disco Nights and sees GQ drop the tempo on a track written by Billy Stewart. When QG released Do I Love You as a single, it sold over one-million copies and became their most successful single. All I can say is no wonder. GQ deliver a deliciously soulful version of the track, with Emanuel’s vocal breathing new life and meaning into the song, while some of the best harmonies on Disco Nights accompany him. Just the rhythm section, keyboards and GQ’s trademark chiming guitars are combined. Later, a guitar solo gives way to tight, punchy and hugely soulful harmonies which are just the finishing and satisfyingly soulful touch to Disco Nights.
Although it took GQ two changes of name, a chance meeting with Tony Lopez walking his dog and a ten year musical journey, the four members of GQ’s perseverance were rewarded. While many other groups would’ve called time on their career, GQ kept believing that one day, they’d make their commercial breakthrough. When they did, it was with a million selling single Disco Nights (Rock Freak) and then their most successful album Disco Nights. On Disco Nights, GQ fused soul, funk, jazz and disco over eight tracks, demonstrating just how talented, tight and versatile musicians GQ were. From the opening bars of Disco Nights (Rock Freak) to the closing notes of GQ’s deliciously, soulful cover of Billy Stewart’s Do I Love You, you’re spellbound by the quality of music. In Emanuel Rahiem LeBlanc GQ had a hugely talented vocalist, who could plea and preach, or inject passion, joy or soulfulness into a song. He does all this and more on Disco Nights. There was much more to GQ’s success than Emanuel’s vocals though. GQ’s rhythm section of bassist Keith “Sabu” Crier, Emanuel on rhythm guitar and Paul Service on drums were responsible for Disco Nights’ good-time funky sound. Then seamlessly, they switch things around and are just as comfortable playing jazz, disco or the Philly soul of Make My Dreams A Reality. After Disco Nights, which will be rereleased on 17th September 2012 by BBR Records, GQ released two more albums for Arista. Good as Two and Face To Face were, GQ’s debut album Disco Nights was their Magnus Opus, their most successful and critically acclaimed album, an album which is worthy of being described as a classic that’s the perfect soundtrack to every one of your Disco Nights. Standout Tracks: Disco Nights (Rock Freak), Make My Dreams A Reality, This Happy Feeling and Do I Love You.