This post is for anyone who LOVES R&B.
Van Allen Clinton McCoy was an American musician, record producer, arranger, songwriter, singer and orchestra conductor. With over 700 copyrights to his credit, he left us too early, after suffering a heart attack at age 39.
One of his most recognized compositions, recorded with his Soul City Symphony, was The Hustle.
In addition to working as a producer with such leading artists the Shirelles, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin Roberta Flack, Vikki Carr and Peaches and Herb, Van McCoy became a star in his own right.
Van McCoy began taking piano lessons from his mother when he was 4 and sang with the Metropolitan Baptist Church choir as a youngster.
With his older brother, Norman, who played the violin, Van began to give concerts for small gatherings when he was a child. He wrote his first song when he was 12.
Van and Norman formed a doo-wop combo named the Starlighters with two friends, Freddy Smith and Paul Comedy, whilst attending high school.
In 1956 they recorded a song called ‘The Birdland‘ b/w ‘It’s Twelve O’Clock‘, for the End record label, which led to the group touring with the drummer Vi Burnsides.
The Starlighters recorded three further singles up until 1959. The group later disbanded, due to some members marrying and others being drafted.
Van also sang with a group called the Marylanders, around this time, for the Jubilee label, including the song ‘Good Old 99‘ b/w ‘Fried Chicken‘.
1959 / The Marylanders / Good Old 99
In September 1968 McCoy attended Howard University to study psychology. He left Howard U after two years and relocated to Philadelphia.
In the 1960s, Van McCoy wrote a block buster song “Baby I’m Yours“. It was picked up by producers Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler, and recorded by Barbara Lewis in New York City, paving the way for McCoy to have a string of other commercially-successful hits.
1960 / Barbara Lewis / Baby I’m Yours
McCoy soon formed his own label, Rock’n Records, with an uncle and released his self penned first single, ‘Mr. DJ‘, in 1961.
McCoy’s single came to the attention of Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg, who hired McCoy as a staff writer and A&R Representative.
His next stop was New York and a career as a producer and composer. He became well known in musical circles and his reputation began to go far beyond that.
In 1962 Van wrote his first hit single entitled ‘Stop the Music‘, for the Shirelles
1962 / The Shirelles / Stop The music
1963 / Van McCoy / It Ain’t No Big Thing
McCoy ran the affairs of several record labels including Vando and Share and co-owned Maxx where he was responsible for various artists including Gladys Knight & The Pips, Chris Bartley, and The Ad Libs.
Following a collaboration with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, as a writer for their Tiger and Daisy labels, he signed with the April-Blackwood music publishing company, which was a subsidiary of Columbia Records.
The song “Getting Mighty Crowded” was written by Van McCoy and was first released by Betty Everett in 1964
1964 / Getting Mighty Crowded / Betty Everett
Further success followed, with Van penning ‘Giving Up‘ for Gladys Knight & The Pips, (later a hit for the late Donny Hathaway),
Gladys Knight & The Pips / Giving Up
Van would write many more great songs: ‘The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven‘ for Chris Bartley, ‘When You’re Young and in Love’ for Ruby and the Romantics (and a version by the Marvelettes), ‘Right on the Tip of My Tongue‘ for Brenda & The Tabulations, ‘Baby I’m Yours‘ for Barbara Lewis, ‘Getting Mighty Crowded‘ for Betty Everett, and ‘I Get the Sweetest Feeling‘ for Jackie Wilson.
The Fantastic “Vantastics”
McCoy also wrote anonymous songs with his girlfriend at the time, Kendra Spotswood.
While it may sound like a girl group on the surface, vocals were provided by Van McCoy and Kendra Spotswood (aka Sandi Sheldon). Their songs were recorded as the Pacettes‘ ‘You Don’t Know Baby‘, Jack & Jill’s ‘Two of a Kind‘, and the Fantastic Vantastics‘ ‘Gee What a Boy.’
Their voices were so similar, the harmonies were otherworldly. It’s no wonder they cut so many records together! (A great account of their story may be found here: http://www.spectropop.com/SandiSheldo…)
1965 / Gee What A Boy / The Fantastic “Vantastics”
Under the name Sandi Sheldon, Kendra Spotswood, also recorded the Van McCoy-penned dancer ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Love You‘, popular on the “Northern Soul” scene. This was on the legendary Okeh label, one of the major records to turn an underground scene about Motownesque rare soul, into what we truly know as Northern Soul today. It was so supremely rare and brilliant in its obscurity, to create a whole generation of fans and record collectors.
Sandi Sheldon / You’re Gonna make Me Love You
Peaches & Herb
Van was also responsible for beginning the careers of Peaches & Herb, arranging and co-producing their first hit, ‘Let’s Fall In Love‘, for the Columbia subsidiary Date, in 1966.
Peaches & Herb / Let’s Fall In Love
Also in 1966, McCoy recorded a Mitch Miller produced solo LP for Columbia entitled ‘Nighttime Is Lonely Time‘, and, a year later, started his own short-lived label, Vando, as well as his own production company VMP (Van McCoy Productions).
In 1968, he released the song ‘If I Could Make You Mine‘ for the Share imprint, co-penned with Chuck Jackson, under the group ensemble name ‘The Van McCoy Strings.
1968 / The Van McCoy Strings / If I Could Make You Mine
He went on to write extensively for many artists including The Presidents (‘5-10-15-20 (25 Years of Love)‘), The Choice Four (‘The Finger Pointers‘, ‘Come Down to Earth‘),
Faith, Hope & Charity
A vocal trio called the Lovelles, originally from Tampa, Florida, met record producer Van McCoy, who signed them to a recording contract at Maxwell Records. At this time, the group’s name was changed to Faith, Hope and Charity.
Faith, Hope & Charity / ‘To Each His Own’ / an early taste of Disco
1971 / Brenda and the Tabulations / It Was Right On The Tip Of My Tongue
In the early 1970s, Van began a long time collaboration with songwriter/producer, Charles Kipps, arranging several hits for the soul group The Stylistics, as well as releasing his own solo LP on Buddah, ‘Soul Improvisations‘, in 1972.
1972 / Soul Improvisations / Album by Van McCoy
Playlist: 01. I’m in love with you baby 02. Don’t hang me up 03. Let me down easy 04. Just in case 05. Now that you’re gone 06. Soul improvisations part.1 07. Don’t rock the boat 08. So many mountains 09. I would love to love you 10. I get lovin’ on my mind 11. He who hath ears to hear 12. Soul improvisations part 2
This album included a minor hit, ‘Let Me Down Easy‘,
Let Me Down Easy / Van McCoy
Van went on to form his own orchestra (brass and strings), the Soul City Symphony and, with singers Faith, Hope and Charity, and he produced several albums on which he also performed.
1975 / Faith Hope and Charity / To Each His Own / produced by Van McCoy
1975 / Merry Go Round / Van McCoy
1975 / The Stylistics / Thank You Baby / written by Van McCoy
Disco Baby was the second studio album recorded by Van McCoy with the Soul City Symphony, released in 1975 on the Avco label.
- Van McCoy: Vocals, piano
- Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken – guitar
- George Degens – rhythm and lead guitar
- Gordon Edwards – bass
- Richard Tee – piano
- Ken Bichel; Synthesizers
- Leroy Leon Pendarvis, Jr. – clavinet, piano
- Arthur Jenkins, Jr. – percussion
This album reached No. 12 on the Billboard Top LPs chart and topped the Billboard Soul LPs chart.
The Song That Changed Van McCoy’s Life / THE HUSTLE / The Soul City Symphony
The Disco Baby album featured the single, “The Hustle“, which went to the very top of both the Billboard pop and R&B charts and won a Grammy, followed by a nomination for the parent album.
The song won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance early in 1976 for songs recorded in 1975.
“The Hustle” was the last track penned for the album and took around an hour to write. Earlier that evening Van’s music partner, Charles Kipps, was at Adam’s Apple, a local nightclub, watching patrons do a dance known as “the Hustle”. When he got back to McCoy, he told him how sensational it was, and the rest is history, as they say.
The song has been featured in numerous movies and television shows including Vampires Suck, the Shark Tale short film Club Oscar, The Lorax, That ’70s Show, American Dad!, and Futurama.
Van McCoy went on to release the singles ‘Party‘, ‘That’s the Joint‘, and ‘Change with the Times‘.
Further albums followed, including ‘From Disco to Love‘ (a 1975 reissue of ‘Soul Improvisations’), ‘The Disco Kid‘ (1975), ‘The Real McCoy‘ (1976), ‘Rhythms of the World‘ (1976), ‘My Favourite Fantasy‘ (1978), ‘Lonely Dancer‘ (1979), and ‘Sweet Rhythm‘ (1979).
Van made the charts again in 1977 with the instrumental hit ‘The Shuffle‘.
He also achieved success via former Temptation David Ruffin’s comeback LP, ‘Who I Am‘, featuring ‘Walk Away from Love‘, a number 1 R&B hit (number 9 pop) in the U.S.A. and a U.K. Top 5 hit.
1975 / David Ruffin / Walk Away From Love
Van worked on two further albums for David Ruffin (‘Everything’s Coming Up Love‘ and ‘In My Stride‘).
Gladys Knight Album
Van produced Gladys Knight & The Pips’ ‘Still Together‘ LP.
1977 / Gladys Knight & The Pips / To Make A Long Story Short
He also worked with Aretha Franklin, writing ‘Walk Softly‘, for her YOU album.
For Tony Award Winner, Gospel and R & B artist Melba Moore Van McCoy produced (‘This Is It‘ and ‘Lean on Me‘).
Sadly, Van McCoy died at an early age from a heart attack, which struck at his home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and he passed away at the Englewood General Hospital, Englewood, New Jersey on the 6th of July 1979, six months exactly before his 40th birthday.
According to producers Hugo & Luigi who owned the Avco record label that originally released “The Hustle“, McCoy met with them in 1979 shortly before his death to discuss ideas for an extended version of the song, in order to appease Avco’s UK and German affiliates who were clamoring for a 12” disco single release. The new version, clocking in at just under 6-and-a-half minutes, was assembled posthumously as a remix, using parts of the original recording plus new parts, including drum, Syndrum, and a “little” Moog synthesizer. It was credited to Van McCoy alone or with an unnamed orchestra, mixed by “The Mix Masters”, identity unknown.