GEORGE MCCRAE-DIAMOND TOUCH.

GEORGE MCCRAE-DIAMOND TOUCH.

For George McCrae, Rock Your Baby, the single that transformed his career was something of a double-edged sword. Commercially, releasing a single that sold over eleven-million copies, reached number one in over eighty countries and was named Rolling Stone magazine’s song of the year in 1974 changed George McCrae’s life forevermore. The downside was, that how do you followup such an iconic song? George’s debut album Rock Your Baby, released in 1974, reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. After his debut album, his next two albums failed to match the success of Rock Your Baby.

The followup to Rock Your Baby, was George McCrae, released in 1974. It reached just number 152 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts.  Together Again, released in 1975, reached just number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Rock Your Baby was proving to be a musical poisoned chalice. After all, songs like Rock Your Baby only come along once in an artist’s career, if they’re really lucky.George McCrae’s fourth album was 1976s Diamond Touch, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th February 2013. T.K. Records, George’s label, decided a change in personnel was needed for Diamond Touch. Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey, who’d masterminded George’s first three albums, were replaced. Gregg Diamond was chosen as their replacement. Gregg Diamond help George McCrae regain his Midas touch with Diamond Touch?

Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey had written Rock Your Baby, the song that transformed George McCrae’s career. They’d also written much of George McCrae’s first three albums and produced them. By 1976, when George was about to record his fourth album, Diamond Touch, things were changing. T.K. Records, George’s label had been unprepared for the success that George would bring them. Ever since Rock Your Baby was released, the label had been growing from a small, almost unknown label, into one of the most successful labels of the time. Similarly, George’s life had been changing with the success he’d enjoyed.

Before George found fame with Rock Your Baby, he’d been married to Gwen McCrae. She’d been meant to record Rock Your Baby, but when she couldn’t make the session, George filled the void. Gwen was a successful singer in her own right, recording an album of duets Together with George. However, their marriage was almost over, and by 1976, George and Gwen were divorcing. So, when George prepared to record Diamond Touch, it was a challenging time, what with his marriage over and working with a new producer.

For Diamond Touch, Gregg Diamond hit the ground running. He wrote three tracks, Nothing But Love, Love Motion and Givin’ Back The Feeling, plus cowrote Dancin’ Through The Storm with George, Robert Geiger, Gene Heimlich and Steven Fineo. George and Robert Geiger penned Loved and Lost, while Chris Robinson contributed I’m Gonna Stay With My Baby Tonight. Robert Duarte and Stephen Argy cowrote Cut The Rug, while guitarist Hugh McCracken, Morgan Ames and Norman Mershon wrote Dance In A Circle. These eight tracks became Diamond Touch.

Another change for Diamond Touch was rather than recording taking place at T.K. Studios in Miami, recording took place at Big Apple Studios. A very different lineup of musicians accompanied George. This included a rhythm section of bassist Stephen Argy, drummer Marty Rodriguez and guitarists Steve Love, plus Dennis Sierra who also played sitar. George, Robert Duarte and Godfrey Diamond played percussion. Gregg played percussion, piano and backing vocals. Robert Geiger played clavinet, Hammond organ and piano, while Steve Fineo piano, electric piano and Fender Rhodes. Together with the Tony Pasch String Section, horns, woodwind and backing vocalists, the eight tracks that became Diamond Touch were produced by Gregg Diamond. Did Gregg Diamond have the Midas touch with Diamond Touch, George McCrae’s fourth album?

On the release of Diamond Touch in December 1976, it seemed Gregg Diamond didn’t quite have the Midas touch. Diamond Touch failed to chart. A small crumb of comfort was Love In Motion, released as a single in January 1977. It reached number four in the US Disco Charts. However, while Diamond Touch wasn’t a commercial success in 1976, is it one of these hidden gems that for too long, remain hidden? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

From the opening bars of Nothing But Love, which opens Diamond Touch, the track explodes into life. It’s a very different sound to George’s three previous albums. Quite simply, with a pulsating, funky, rhythm section joins guitars and keyboards. They accompany, George’s joyous, urgent vocal. It literally dances across the arrangement, which has Gregg Diamond’s trademark sound. Strings join the party, dancing with delight, horns rasp and harmonies add to the urgency, as a hook laden disco track unfolds. Producer Gregg Diamond has made a bold statement, bringing George right into the disco era, albeit with a funky twist.

Love Motion sees the tempo slow slightly, but Diamond Touch focus solely on the dance-floor. Tough, funky keyboards and the lushest of strings sweep and swirl. They provide contrasts, while the pounding disco beat is ever-present. Key to the disco beat is Stephen Argy’s Fender bass, which propels the arrangement along. George, spurred on, delivers a confident, strident vocal. Flourishes of piano add flamboyance, while the constant clavinet panned right is part of Gregg’s robotic boogie “sound.” Like the opening track, it’s dance-floor friendly, infectiously catchy and sees George with a new lease of life.

While the two previous tracks were penned by Gregg Diamond, Chris Robinson wrote the deeply soulful I’m Gonna Stay With My Baby Tonight. Chiming guitars announce the arrival of Southern Soul horns, cascading horns and the rhythm section. When George’s vocal enters, it’s heartfelt and filled with emotion and happiness. Handclaps and harmonies accompany George, as he tenderly delivers one of his most soulful, inspired vocals. The harmonies add the finishing touch to the song, as George demonstrates whether it’s soul or disco, he’s equally at home.

Givin’ Back The Feeling sees an other change in style. Tough and funky describes the arrangement. Horns blaze, the bass leads a funky rhythm section while keyboards, panned right add a tough, edgy sound. George’s vocal is vampish, sassy and fiery. Sometimes, it’s enveloped in delay, adding an air of mystery. Strings cascade, guitars chime as horns growl and kick, as George struts and vamps his way confidently through the track, reminding me somewhat of Sylvester, another giant of disco.

Just like the opening track, Cut The Rug explodes into life, grabbing your attention. A myriad of dancing strings, driving rhythm section and grizzled horns combine with percussion and keyboards. Having set the scene, George’s urgent falsetto soars in. Filled with emotion, and delivered with urgency, George is driven on by one of the band’s best performances. Their performance really lifts a song which is filled with poppy hooks, as disco, funk, jazz and Latin combine for four minutes.

Shimmering, quivering strings open Dance In A Circle, before Gregg Diamond’s bionic boogie sound unfolds. This is one of the highlights of Diamond Touch. Gregg’s production and George’s performance are peerless. George delivers his falsetto vocal, while the arrangement dances beneath him. Again, there are similarities with Sylvester. A pulsating, pounding disco beat, swirling, sweeping strings and keyboards are combined. The result is truly breathtaking. From start to finish, you’re swept along, hooks aplenty unfolding, as George unleashes an urgent, vampish vocal. Having found a new enthusiasm, George delivers a call to dance, where resistance is futile. Best just submit to the songs charms, and Dance In A Circle.

Dancin’ Through The Storm was the only track George cowrote on Diamond Touch. Coincidence or not, it’s one of the songs best suited for George. He seems comfortable, not forcing the vocal. Indeed, he delivers one of his most soulful vocals. The tempo slows, with the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards driving the arrangement along. George’s vocal veers between tender, needy and impassioned. Searing, riffing guitars and keyboards play an important part in the arrangement, as George rolls back the years, returning to the soulful side of his music.

Loved and Lost closes Diamond Touch on a high. Again, George’s soulful side is allowed to shine through. The slower tempo and vintage sounding arrangement suits the song. George’s heartbroken, needy vocal is accompanied by equally emotive harmonies. They’re the perfect foil for his pleas. Meanwhile the rhythm section, percussion and guitars provide an emotive, mid-tempo, backdrop for his vocal. Its roots are in the fifties and sixties, and thanks to producer Gregg Diamond, provides a quite beautiful backdrop to George’s hurt-filled and heartbroken vocal. This seems a fitting and quite beautiful way to close Diamond Touch.

After three albums with Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey masterminding George McCrae’s career, T.K. Records decided that, in an attempt to rejuvenate George’s career, a new producer was required. This is always risky. After all, many producers have a trademark sound. Their solution, to rejuvenate an artists career is to stamp that sound on an artists album. Sometimes this works, other times, it doesn’t. In the case of George McCrae’s fourth album Diamond Touch, producer Gregg Diamond didn’t have the Midas Touch. 

Granted the eights songs that comprise Diamond Touch see George’s music moving in new directions. Out was the Miami sound of his three previous albums. Replacing it was disco, and Gregg’s bionic boogie sound. Opening with Nothing But Love and the single Love In Motion, Gregg grabs your attention. Then comes the deeply soulful sound of I’m Gonna Stay With My Baby Tonight. This wasn’t the only soulful cut on Diamond Touch, Dancin’ Through The Storm and Loved and Lost were two other soulful treats from George McCrae. The other tracks were disco and funk. Givin’ Back The Feeling has a tough, funky sound, while Cut The Rug is an explosive fusion of influences. Dance In A Circle is an irresistible track, where George McCrae becomes a disco shaman. Sadly, the change in producer for Diamond Touch didn’t help rebuild George McCrae’s career.

Not only was it a case that producer Gregg Diamond didn’t have the Midas touch on Diamond Touch, but it was the least successful album of George McCrae’s four album career. However, Gregg played his part in ensuring that Diamond Touch, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 25th February 2013, moved George McCrae’s career in a new direction. Funk, soul, disco and bionic boogie are combined over the eight tracks that comprise Diamond Touch. Indeed, Diamond Touch features some hidden disco gems and deeply soulful cuts from George McCrae, and marked the opening in a new chapter of his career. Standout Tracks: Love In Motion, I’m Gonna Stay With My Baby Tonight, Dancin’ Through The Storm and Loved and Lost.

GEORGE MCCRAE-DIAMOND TOUCH.

 

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    1. George McCrae – Rock your baby | 1970to1979

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