Imagine an artist could record a single in an hour, costing them just $15 or $20 and that single went on to reach number one in the US Billboard and US R&B Charts. While that might sound far fetched, it actually happened. Back in 1974 George McCrae recorded Rock Your Baby in less than an hour, with the track costing between $15 or $20 to record. On its release, not only did it reach number one in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts, but in eight other countries. Having recorded such a hugely successful single, George recorded his debut album Rock Your Baby, which will be rereleased on 4th February 2014 by WEA Japan. However, Rock Your Baby nearly never happened.

George was about to head back to college, to study law enforcement. Luckily, Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and The Sunshine Band brought a song for George’s wife Gwen McCrae to record, and the fickle finger of fate intervened. Unfortunately for Gwen, but luckily for George, Gwen was late for the recording session, so George stepped into the breach. He recorded the vocal after Richard and Harry spent forty-five minutes recording the backing track. Two takes later, the song was recorded and the course of musical history was forever changed. Rock Your Baby was released, becoming a worldwide hit. Then came George’s debut album Rock Your Baby, which I’ll tell you about.

Although Rock Your Baby was George McCrae’s breakthrough single and lead to him recording his debut album, he was an experienced singer. He’d started his career when he formed the Jivin’ Jets. A spell in the US Navy lead to a four year break from music. 

By 1967, when he left the navy, George decided to reform the Jivin’ Jets, with his wife Gwen joining the group. Quickly, they decided that they’d become a duo, then signing for the Alston label, owned by Henry Stone. Then, when Gwen got a solo contract, George became her manager, while working as a session singer and singing in clubs. When success wasn’t arriving, George decided on a change of career. George was nearly through with music. Instead, he saw a career in law enforcement as a steady alternative. Before that, he’d to head to college.

Just before George was about to head to college, Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey of KC and The Sunshine Band arrived with Rock Your Baby for Gwen to record. George was going along to the Gwen’s recording of Rock Your Baby as an onlooker. Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey laid down the backing track in just forty-five minutes. Then a problem occurred. Gwen was late. George stepped in, singing the song in two takes. After the session, Jerome Smith was paid $15 to add guitar. With a McCrae having recorded Rock Your Baby, pretty soon, George’s plans for a career in law enforcement would be a thing of the past.

Rock Your Baby was released by T.K. Records in April 1974, with the single entering at number ninety-three in the US R&B Charts. Even then George mustn’t have thought the song would change his life. Over the next seven weeks, Rock Your Baby rose up the chart, reaching number one in the US Billboard 100 in July 1974, spending three weeks there. The single also reached number one in the US R&B Charts, while reaching number one in over eighty countries worldwide. It became the song of the summer of 1974. Whether it was clubs, cafes or car-radios the song was everywhere, on radio playlists everywhere. Given the success of Rock Your Baby, an album was needed. That meant a return to the studio for George.

For George’s debut album, Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey cowrote seven new tracks. They were recorded in less than two weeks, with Richard and Harry playing on and producing the album. Along with drummer Robert Johnson, guitarists Phillip Wright and Jerome Smith who’d played on Rock Your Baby the album was soon finished. 

No sooner was the album Rock Your Baby completed, George started touring. He was the opening act for James Brown, The Jackson 5 and was on American Bandstand. Later, he’d accompany Rufus and Chaka Khan and Billy Preston on Soul Train. George must have been unable to believe his good luck. However, what must have Gwen felt like? What if she hadn’t been late? Would it be her that was appearing on American Bandstand and Soul Train? 

After the success of Rock Your Baby, George released the followup single I Can’t Leave You Alone in September 1974. It reached number fifty in the US Billboard 100, number ten in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the UK. While this hadn’t matched the success of Rock Your Baby, it couldn’t have been expected to. After all, Rock Your Baby was a classic. Two months later in November 1974, George’s debut album Rock Your Baby was released, reaching number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. Meanwhile, over in the UK, the album number thirteen. In December 1974, I Get Lifted became the third single released by George, reaching number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. One year after the release of Rock Your Baby, came the release of Look At You in April 1975. Look At You reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-one in the US R&B Charts. This brought a quite remarkable year for George McCrae to an end. He’d gone from future policeman to worldwide star, with a number one single in over eighty countries and released his debut album Rock Your Baby, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening Rock Your Baby is Rock Your Baby, the single that sold two-million copies and launched George’s career in the process. This isn’t the original version, but a six minute version, where the song is extended from under three minutes. To do this, a series of breaks are added. This allows you to revel in the song’s familiar strains even longer. What makes the track such a success is the original song’s simplicity. Just flourishes and cascades of organ, combine with the unmistakable drum sound. It gives the track its Miami rhythm shuffle. Add to that are with tambourine and overdubbed guitar by Jerome Smith. The finishing touch is George’s soaring, joyous falsetto, full of sensuality. Taken together, the result is a genuine classic, that nearly forty years later, sounds just as good.

Following the classic Rock Your Baby, is I Can’t Leave You Alone (I Keep Holdin’ On), which has some similarities with its predecessor. It’s not immediately apparent. as the rhythm section drive the track along, with George’s emotive vocal riding atop the arrangement. As the rhythm section build up the drama, flourishes of organ are unleashed. Just for a moment the similarity is apparent, but it’s hugely effective. From there, George’s vocal is impassioned and powerful, accompanied by a hard driving, pounding rhythm section. They combine with George to play their part in this emotive, dramatic track, that gave George his second hit single.

Stabs of Hammond organ and a pounding rhythm section accompany George as You Got My Heart begins. It’s almost as if George has grown in confidence, reveling in his roll. His vocal is confident, joyous and sassy, while flourishes of Hammond organ, piano and a hard driving rhythm section accompany him. The result is track with a lovely loose, but joyous sound.

As You Can Have It All opens, it nods its head to Rock Your Baby. There’s a similar sound and feel to the sound. That’s no bad thing, given how good the original is. The rhythm section, guitars and waves of Hammond organ accompany George’s cascading vocal. Sometimes, when delivers a line, he pauses, almost answering his own call. Then he unleashes his falsetto vocal, allowing it to soar, displaying an impressive range. His vocal plays an important part in the track’s catchy, hooky sound. Although best described as a cousin of Rock Your Baby, the song comes from a good family. 

When You Can Have It All opens George’s vocal is half-spoken, accompanied by the rhythm section and reverberating guitars that drift into the distance. By then, you’ve no idea of the secrets the song has in store. A grand flourish from the organ, still gives no clue. What follows is an arrangement where George’s band explore the song’s subtleties. Flourishes of chiming guitar and piano, drift in and out, as waves of the arrangement replace George’s vocal. Meanwhile the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat, while the guitars duel and the waves of organ and piano are unleashed. Although the sound is soulful, it’s almost a jazz-tinged exploration of the song. Even George enjoys this, almost ad-libbing his vocal. After nearly five minutes, where George and his band kick loose, George’s soaring falsetto drifts into the distance. Both he and his band have demonstrated a quite different, looser but still soulful side to their sound, one I’d like to hear much more of.

Make It Right sees the rhythm section, guitars and organ combine, creating a sound that takes its lead from Rock Your Baby. George’s vocal soars atop the arrangement, which shuffles along, with its familiar sound. Later, when waves of organ are unleashed, George unleashes his falsetto vocal. It’s then that the similarities with Rock Your Baby become even more apparent. However, that doesn’t matter. Not when you hear the emotion, passion and power in George’s vocal, set against an arrangement where waves of glorious music arrive, before departing all too soon. 

I Need Somebody Like You has a quite different sound from the other tracks on Rock Your Baby. It’s just guitar, drums and then piano that combine as the track begins to reveal its secrets. A flourish of piano, signals the arrival of George’s tender vocal, which sits back in the mix. The band don’t overpower or overcrowd his vocal. They do play in a way that’s quite different to other tracks. It suits the song and George’s tender, gentle vocal.

Another of the singles released from Rock Your Baby was I Get Lifted. The song has a sultry sound. George’s breathy, needy vocal is accompanied by an arrangement that arrives in waves. Just the rhythm section, complete with hissing hi-hats, piano and guitars accompany George. He unleashes a vocal that’s full of desire and sensuality, which is perfect for the arrangement. That’s why the song was so successful when released as a single, reaching number eight in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100.

Closing Rock Your Baby is Rock Your Baby (Reprise), where you hear two more minutes of the song’s familiar strains. Listening to it, you can’t help be hooked by the song and its sheer simplicity. There’s no strings or horns, unlike what Gamble and Huff were doing in Philly. Just a great song, with a simple arrangement, recorded in two takes and sung by a legendary singer Mr. George McCrae.

The story of Rock Your Baby and how it transformed George McCrae’s career from almost quitting music for to study law enforcement, to an artist who sold two-million singles in the US alone and had a number one in over eighty countries is quite remarkable. It’s almost like the stuff of a low-budget movie, that usually, can be seen on rainy Sunday afternoons. For once, though it happened in real life, kick-starting a career that would span five decades for George McCrae. Fourteen further albums followed, one of those Together, with wife Gwen. His last album was 2009s Time For A Change.

Even today, George is still touring, thirty-eight years after Rock Your Baby and the album that followed, Rock Your Baby were released. Listening to the album, it’s as if at last, after seven years in the music industry, George’s talent was unleashed. He’s been given a chance, after years of struggling, and nearly giving up. There’s no way he’s going to blow this chance, so gave everything. He knew that having given his all, he’d have no regrets. So,  he unleashed his talent during the nine tracks that makeup Rock Your Baby, which will be rereleased by WEA Japan on 4th February 2014.

Rock Your Baby launched George McCrae’s career worldwide, proving there was much more to him than one song. Although George found fame with Rock Your Baby, you can’t help feel sorry far Gwen, his wife. If she hadn’t been late for the recording session, maybe musical history would be very different. Maybe I’d be writing about Gwen McCrae and George would a successful law enforcement officer, rather than the  man who recorded that classic disco track Rock Your Baby? Standout Tracks: Rock Your Baby, I Can’t Leave You Alone (I Keep Holdin’ On), You Can Have It All and Make It Right.


1 Comment

  1. This was always a floor filler at the Northern dance clubs I used to frequent in my long-lost youth!

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