Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Remembering Van McCoy

It is hard to believe that, nearly thirty years ago, we lost one of the most prolific writer/producers in the pop and soul music worlds: Van McCoy

Born in 1940 in Washington, D.C., McCoy began performing in doo-wop groups while in high school, then attended Howard University as a psychology mahor, only to drop out after two years to form his own record label, Rockin' Records. His first single, "Hey, Mr. D.J." (1959) caught the ear of Specter Records owner Florence Greenberg, who subsequently hired him on as a staff songwriter and artists & repitoire representative. His first hit as a songwriter came with the Shirelles' "Stop the Music" (1962). Later, he became co-owner of Maxx Records, supervising such artists as a pre-Motown Gladys Knight & the Pips. But he didn't really hit his stride until he began working with top music producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and later signing as a writer with the April-Blackwood music publishing concern, which had a connection with Columbia Records.

McCoy would proceed to write a string of pop and soul hits as the Sixties progressed. The body of work that came out of that period included recordings by Gladys Knight & the Pips ("Giving Up"), Darlene Love and the Blossoms ("That's When the Tears Start"), the Fleetwoods ("Before and After (Losing You)"), Aretha Franklin ("Sweet Bitter Love"), the Marvelettes ("When You're Young and in Love"), Barbara Lewis ("Baby, I'm Yours"), Betty Everett ("Gettin' Mighty Crowded"), a post-Supremes Florence Ballard ("Love Ain't Love"), and Chris Bartley ("The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven")

As he entered into the Seventies, he wrote and produced hits for Brenda & the Tabulations ("Right On the Tip Of My Tongue"), Jackie Wilson ("I Get the Sweetest Feeling"), The Presidents ("5-10-15-20 [25-30 Years of Love]"), David Ruffin ("Walk Away From Love") and the group Faith, Hope & Charity ("To Each His Own").

But McCoy is best known for his 1975 hit "The Hustle," one of the first seismic tremors that triggered the disco explosion that dominated the latter part of the decade. Though he continued to write and produce for such artists as Melba Moore, David Ruffin and Gladys Knight & the Pips throughout the Seventies, he would tragically die of a heart attack in 1979, unexpectedly robbing us of a gifted individual who still had much important work ahead of him.

An anthology of his output from the Sixties and Seventies is long overdue.

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