A remarkably assured and pleasingly varied album
Daryl Easlea 2009
Between 1976 and 1980, L.A. band Rose Royce was one of the biggest groups in soul. Together since 1970, they were originally known as Total Concept Unlimited. After a break supporting Edwin Starr on tour, they met Motown producer Norman Whitfield, who employed them as backing band to the Temptations, Yvonne Fair and the Undisputed Truth. Whitfield brought in former Jewels lead singer Gwen Dickey, rechristened her Rose Norwalt, and Rose Royce was born.
Whitfield took the group with him to his own label, and while recording this, their debut album, received a call to soundtrack a new film, Car Wash. Whitfield persuaded the powers that be to let the band, as-yet-untested-on-record take centre stage. The film, the album, and its two principle tracks, I Wanna Get Next To You and Car Wash became huge hits. The blend of Dickey's soulful voice and trumpeter Kenny Copeland’s falsetto proved a potent brew. Signing to Whitfield's own label, Whitfield, they finally released Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom in 1977. It is a remarkably assured and pleasingly varied album, owing more to classic soul than to the then-nascent disco boom that they had so anthemed with Car Wash.
The nine-minute Do Your Dance is a typically greasy slice of west-coast 70s funk with falsetto vocals, Funkadelic nods and awesome drum fills; It Makes You Feel Like Dancin' is similar. Ooh Boy sounds like something Motown could have produced a decade earlier.
But it was one stand-out ballad that stole the show, and for many, their whole career: Wishing On A Star. Words cannot measure the swooning, illustrious beauty of it. Originally written for Barbara Streisand by Billie Rae Calvin, Norman Whitfield persuaded her to give the song to the group. The lead single off the album, its mazy string arrangements and Dickey's fragile, soulful voice encapsulate a million late nights. Massive Attack, among many others, were certainly listening.
After another couple of formidable albums and 1980's UK No. 1 Greatest Hits, Rose Royce began to wilt commercially. However, the legacy of their hits, and this album in particular, remains particularly strong.