Music

GQ: Standing Ovation - The Story of GQ and The Rhythm Makers (1974-1982)

GQ arrived in the days of disco and left its mark on American music, one funky bassline at a time.


GQ

Standing Ovation: The Story of GQ and The Rhythm Makers (1974-1982)

Label: Cherry Red
Release Date: 2016-08-12
Amazon
iTunes

There’s a chance you’ve never heard of GQ (Good Quality), even if you live on American soil. The group first thrived in the golden era of disco, landing a deal with Arista in 1979, just in time to join the likes of Raydio (featuring Ray Parker Jr.) and Dionne Warwick. The smash album Disco Nights bore the incredibly successful single, “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)”, which rose to the top of the soul charts and shot to the upper echelons of the pop and disco sheets. It was no overnight success, though.

The group had been gigging around New York City since the late '60s, having initially come together as Sabu and the Survivors, named after bassist Keith “Sabu” Crier. There were a few name changes between and 1976, with the outfit eventually settling on The Rhythm Makers and cutting one record for the small Vigor imprint with the core lineup of Crier, keyboardist Herb Lane, drummer Kenny Banks and rhythm guitarist Rahiem Leblanc in place. Banks left around that time, replaced by Paul Service in 1978 when GQ began its ascent to the funk throne. The unit’s biggest success would come in those early years, with Disco Nights and its 1980 follow-up, Two, leading the charge.

Those releases, in all their late '70s glory, are well-represented on the two-disc Standing Ovation: The Story of GQ and The Rhythm Makers (1974-1982), which features cuts culled from the Arista recordings as well from Rhythm Makers sessions, reminding listeners that this was a band built on soul and not merely style. As good as “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak) is (and it holds up very nicely), it’s the fourth cut on the first disc, the 1976 Soul On Your Side tune “Zone”, that kicks the party into high gear. With doses of Latin and African rhythms driving the tune, an unstoppable bass line, and soul-slathered keyboard figures, the tune needed little else to make its case. It is not surprisingly good, it is entirely good, a full-on funk assault that holds the listener deep in its grips from one end to the other. The same can’t be said for 1982’s “Try Smurfin”; It’s not so much that the song isn’t good, it’s that it’s a cute attempt to gain traction with those who loved the Saturday morning animated series The Smurfs. It comes off as silly more than anything else.

Still, the first disc is loaded with plenty of the good stuff, including three more act cuts from the Rhythm Makers: “Monterey”, “Touch”, and “Soul on Your Side”. There’s also “You’ve Got the Floor”, an obvious dance number, and “I Love (The Skin You’re In)”. Sure, there’s some duff stuff too, like “Is It Cool” and “Make My Dreams a Reality”, which are virtually indistinguishable from each other; elsewhere, “Spirit” feels like a Village People retread, and “It’s Your Love” is a little too soft even for soft rock. Plus, it lacks the smart sophistication of the best cuts, even though the guys sing as sweetly as ever. The material appears with little care for chronology, instead of hanging together nicely as a new entity: the album the band never got to make, with some of its greatest moments intact.

The second set focuses on the second and third GQ albums, the aforementioned Two and 1981’s Face to Face. Paul Service was gone by then and the days of disco and acts related to it were numbered. The record’s singles, “Shake” and “Sad Girl”, failed to gain the same kind of attention earlier releases did, and maybe for good reason. The second single was an attempt to reach back in time, to a more innocent era, but the timing was off. New Edition would reignite interest in refined harmonies and soul that nodded to the Philly tradition within a year but, for the moment, GQ’s take may have been too much of a step back.

“Dark Side of the Sun”, from the same record, suggests that the writing just wasn’t as fresh and driven as it was the start, so it’s actually a relief that there’s one more song from The Rhythm Makers toward the platter’s back end. It comes just before three largely unnecessary bonus cuts, remixes of “Make My Dream a Reality”, “Boogie Oogie”, and “Disco Nights (Rock Freak)”. The group essentially reached the end of the line 1982, though its music has been sampled by a variety of hip-hop artists and its legacy remains strong among funk and disco fanatics. Crier died in 2013, while Leblanc (known as Mr. Q) continued to perform with some semblance of the group for years after its commercial star faded.

Highly detailed (and readable) liner notes accompany a release that suggests that the GQ discography is worth spending more time with, if not go so far as to reignite interest in the outfit’s first great wave. The real find, though, is the Rhythm Makers, and one can only hope that there is a treasury of rarities lurking out there somewhere that might give us more insight into that great lost band.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image