No Heatwave: no Britfunk, and certainly no Thriller.
Daryl Easlea 2010
American brothers Johnnie and Keith Wilder had been US servicemen playing soul in Germany when they came to the UK and met keyboard player Rod Temperton, who had also honed his craft playing around the US air force bases in Germany. Impressed with his songwriting skills, they invited Temperton to join, and assembled a multi-cultural band.
Temperton, from that well-known soul glamour spot of Cleethorpes, had been stockpiling songs since he was a teenager. Overnight, the group changed from being a covers act to a vehicle for his songs. Signing to GTO Records, their debut album, Too Hot to Handle, was written solely by Temperton. Produced by 70s hit-maker Barry Blue, the album sounded far more expensive than it was, making North London seem like Hollywood.
Boogie Nights is one of the key records in the dawn of Britfunk, the Heatwave hit you can see from space. Perennially popular, it is simply an exceptionally well-put-together record that was to reach the top five on both sides of the Atlantic. There is more to the record than meets the ear – the opening harp and strings are pure jazz-rock, and its string coda is unsettling; the segue into their debut single, Ain’t No Half Steppin’, sounds like British progressive rock band Gentle Giant.
Otherwise, it is the ballads that steal the show. Always and Forever is a permanently glitterball-sparkling number that enlivened slow sections everywhere for years, and was eventually a hit in 1978. Sho ’Nuff Must Be Luv highlights their hybrid of American and British styles. It opens with the line “Driving round in the night, trying to pick up a station”– you can almost feel the UK inner city wilderness, the same landscape that was to inform punk.
Outside its two big hits, the album is not overly memorable – Beat Your Booty is a nostalgic, party hearty thud; and All You Do Is Dial is generic, when the proliferation of household telephones was about as modern as it gets.
Although Too Hot to Handle is flawed, the strength of its killer single carries it. Quincy Jones heard it when he was in London working on The Wiz. Impressed with Temperton’s writing skills, he recommended him to Michael Jackson. The rest, as they say…