For a while, I believed that 1979's barnstorming Ladies Night was Kool & The Gang's debut. By bringing in producer Eumir Deodato and lead singer James "J.T." Taylor, they did indeed launch themselves into the pop chart stratosphere that year but they'd already had a long-running and very successful career as a jazz-funk band. This is best exemplified by their tune "Summer Madness" from their 1974 album Light of Worlds which was a firm favourite among fans at the time but was introduced to the wider world in 1991 when DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince sampled it for their monster hit "Summertime". Another good indicator of what the guys were capable of can be found on their contribution to Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track, called "Open Sesame". I was playing "Ladies Night" just the other day and was struck by how incredibly clean - even by today's standards - the production was. It only has six songs on it but every one is a winner.
This 1980 follow-up, if anything, was even more popular than its predecessor. The two party hits "Celebration" and "Love Festival" are as alive now (in connoisseur homes and on specialist dancefloors at least) as they were then but the album offers much more. The mid-tempo tune "Jones Vs. Jones", "Just Friends", the ballad "Love Affair" and the instrumental "Morning Star" were all firm favourites of mine right from the gate. My love and enthusiasm for these tunes has not diminished in the intervening 28 years; on the contrary, my appreciation for them has actually grown. Kool & The Gang were a real band, made up of people who were incredibly good musicians who also knew how to write good, funky songs. To crown it all, they had the warm, soulful lead vocals of J.T. and from what I recall, the ladies loved him. The guys just wanted to be him.
This successful phase of Kool & The Gang's career went on for a few years, with albums like Something Special, As One and Emergency. Good albums all, but this ultimate classic from a golden era should be in every 80s music lover's collection. The CD cost me a bit more than usual but it's worth every penny. What's more, I even managed to sell my old vinyl copy for a decent amount.
They don't make them like this anymore. Once again, I'm just glad I can say I was there.