Mr. Cliff Nobles
Cliff Nobles & Co. – The Horse (Phil L.A. of Soul)
Preparations – Get E Up (The Horse) (Heart and Soul)
Delights Orchestra – King of the Horse (Atco)
Cliff Nobles & Co. – Love Is Alright (Phil L.A. of Soul)
Fantastic Johnny C – Hitch It To the Horse (Phil L.A. of Soul)
Soul Brothers – Horsing Around (New Miss)
James Boys – The Mule (Phil L.A. of Soul)
Lou Courtney – Do the Horse (Verve)
Chevelles – The Gallop (Flaming Arrow)
Cliff Nobles & Co. – Horse Fever (Phil L.A. of Soul)
Roy Ward – Horse With a Freeze Pt1 (Seven B)
The Ventures – Horse Power (Liberty)
Johnny Jones & the King Casuals – Horsing Around (Brunswick)
Lester Young & the California Playboys – Funky Funky Horse (Unity)
James Boys – The Horse (Phil L.A. of Soul)
NOTE:The following article is an amended/extended version of an older feature from the Funky16Corners Web Zine. I’ve been wanting to get together a “Horse”-related podcast for a while, and this is it.
Happy Friday everybody!
The end of another week has arrived and as promised, I’m here to drop another chapter in the epic story that is Funky16Corners Radio.
One of the great lost stories of pop culture generally – and soul music specifically – is that of the countless dance steps that were once so popular they were memorialized in song (some dozens of times). Sadly, today, outside of small pockets of aging dancers that still gather together to keep these steps alive (especially in Philly/South Jersey/Baltimore), these dances have been reduced to buzz words in often forgotten 45s.
Surely there are a grip of soul fans/collectors/afficionados who will step up to recite chapter and verse with long lists of twists, boogaloos, shuffles and even more obscure steps like the Camel Walk, the 81 and the Madison.
While there’s no doubt that we’ve all seen these dances performed (by artists and audiences both) in vintage TV show and concert footage, not too many of us would be able to associate a name with a particular step if given the opportunity.
The 1960’s were an especially hot time for dance craze records. Thanks to powerhouse AM radio stations, TV shows like American Bandstand and scores of locally based dance party shows, America’s teens became prolific consumers of soul and funk 45’s aimed at the dance-floor. Dance records were a constant presence on the charts.
If you had your radio tuned to WHAT in Philadelphia in the summer of 1968, the chances were good that Sonny Hopson ‘The Mighty Burner’ was helping you to get your groove on to ‘The Horse’. The tune, the instrumental version (and b-side) of Cliff Nobles & Co.’s ‘Love Is All Right’ , which was released at the end of February, languished as the flip of an excellent, but mostly ignored vocal. That was until a disc jockey in Tampa, Florida flipped the record over and made it a hit (the disc reportedly sold 10,000 copies in Tampa alone in the first week).
The record became a national smash, peaking at #2 on the pop charts for three weeks in July of 1968, kept out of the #1 spot by Hugh Masekela’s ‘Grazing In The Grass’. It was by far the biggest hit for Philadelphia’s Phil L.A. of Soul records (a solid source of soul and funk classics for many years), and provided fodder for high school and college marching bands for years.
Nobles’ record also spawned something of a ‘Horse’ cottage industry in Philadelphia, and all over the country. However, it wasn’t the first ‘Horse’ record. That title belongs to ‘Get-E-Up (The Horse)’ by New York’s Preparations (on the Heart & Soul label) which preceded it by a few months. This upbeat dancer, propelled by a riff modeled on the ‘Cool Jerk’, with its female backing vocals repeating ‘Get-e-up, get-e-up…’ in the chorus made it to #30 on the national R&B charts in the spring of ‘68.
Ultimately it was no match for the Cliff Nobles ‘Horse’.
Nobles was born in Alabama (where he was eventually elected into the state’s Music Hall of Fame), and moved to Norristown, PA as a young man. In Norristown he was discovered by Philly soul performer/songwriter/entrepreneur Jesse James, and it was through him that Nobles made his was to Phil L.A. of Soul records. His first 45 for the label, ‘The More I Do For You Baby’ b/w ‘This Love Will Last’ in January of ’68 went nowhere. ‘Love is All Right’ b/w ‘The Horse’, which was written by James would catapult Nobles into the limelight (somewhat ironic since as a vocalist he had little or nothing to do with the hit side of the single). Though ‘Love Is All Right’ features a powerful vocal by Nobles, and could well have been a hit on it’s own, ‘The Horse’ is a killer. It’s pounding drums (by Philly great Earl Young), bass and guitar (Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris and Bobby Eli) , and memorable horn lines made it a floor-filler. It packs a break that would be legendary were it not the highlight of what amounts to one of the great 25 cent garage sale/flea market records.
Following the natural progression of things (for a record label), Phil L.A. of Soul decided to capitalize on the popularity of ‘The Horse’ by attempting to clone it’s success. They followed it with the Fantastic Johnny C’s ‘Hitch it to the Horse’ b/w ‘Cool Broadway’ in the early summer. Sounding at times like a more energetic, funky version of his own ‘Boogaloo Down Broadway’ (the opening guitar riff is a direct reference), ‘Hitch It To The Horse’ is a groover that attempts to splice the ‘Horse and the ‘Funky Walk’. For a time in July of ’68 ‘Hitch It To The Horse’ and ‘The Horse’ were on the charts simultaneously.
Jesse James got into the act himself with ‘The Horse’ b/w ‘The Mule’ by the James Boys. Featuring the same instrumental track as the Nobles 45, but now sporting a vocal by James with new dance-specific lyrics. This is the ‘Horse’ version I like the best and the version I recall hearing when I was a kid, but for years was unable to track it down (no doubt because I assumed it was also a Cliff Nobles 45). The flip, ‘The Mule’ is just an instrumental dub of ‘Hitch It To The Horse’.
Nobles himself got back into the act that July with ‘Judge Baby I’m Back b/w ‘Horse Fever’. ‘Horse Fever’ is an instrumental dub of ‘Judge Baby…’ (one of Nobles’ best tunes), but it still managed to make it into the Top 50 in September of 1968. It was to be the last of the ‘Horse’ tunes to see release on Phil L.A. of Soul (not counting appearances by these tunes on LP’s by Nobles and Fantastic Johnny C), but not the last of the Philadelphia-based ‘Horse’ cash-ins.
There was the ‘Philly Horse’ by Tony Alvon & The Belairs (creators of the funk classic ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’) on Atlantic with ‘Don’t Be A Drag (Giddy Up) on the flip, ‘High Horse Pts 1&2’ by the Virtue Orchestra on Virtue, ‘Hitch It To the Mule’ by the Panic Buttons on Chalom and ‘Paul’s Midnight Ride’ and ‘King Of The Horse’ (flip side of Philly funk classic ‘Do Your Thing’) by The Delights Orchestra on Atco. ‘King of the Horse’ is a great, funky groover. It is (deliberately) reminiscent of ‘The Horse’ and has a fantastic horn line. ‘Paul’s Midnight Ride’ , the instrumental track of the Sweet Delight’s vocal on the singles A-side is also cool. Nobles himself returned with ‘Pony The Horse’ on Moonshot.
The interesting thing is that the majority of the Philly sides – including half of the records in this mix – feature the same basic band (later the core of MFSB) who recorded under a wide variety of pseudonyms including the Interpretations, Brothers of Hope and the Hidden Cost.
There were also a bunch of ‘Horse’ records from outside of Philly, most of them bearing at least a superficial structural/stylistic resemblance to the original. One of the coolest is the Eddie Bo written/produced ‘Horse With a Freeze’ by Roy Ward on Seven B (out of New Orleans). It manages to work snippets of the ‘William Tell Overture’ into the mix and still remain funky. No one is sure if there ever really was a “Roy Ward”, and there are those ( a group in which I include myself) who believe that the singer is Bo himself. As it is an attempt to glom onto not one but TWO separate dance crazes (the Horse and the Freeze) it features a number of cold breaks/false endings that never fail to fool listeners wherever the 45 hits the decks.
The Soul Brothers (as in Benny Gordon and the…) had ‘Horsing Around’ on Newmiss, with solid drums and a great blaring horn bit in the chorus. Nashville, Tennessee’s Johnny Jones and the King Casual’s backed their classic cover of ‘Purple Haze’ with another (completely different) ‘Horsing Around’. Their tune is a little more laid back, with a bluesy edge and a great guitar lead. The most frantic of the lot is ‘The Gallop’ by the Chevelles on Flaming Arrow. Drenched in reverb it features a fast drum track and lots of blaring horns that tie it directly to the Nobles version. The only cover I’ve heard that departs almost completely from the Nobles template is ‘Funky Funky Horse’ by Lester Young and the California Playboys on Unity. Opening with a hint of ‘Yankee Doodle’ on the organ and taken at a much slower pace than the other ‘Horse’s the tune is a loose, blues inflected cut with great soulful vocals by Young.
There were also covers of ‘The Horse’ by Booker T. & The MG’s, the Ventures (as well as their own ‘Horse Power’, which appeared on the same LP, and is included in this mix) and Marvin Holmes and the Uptights.
NOTE: In addition to all of this there appears to have been ANOTHER vogue a year later for the “Iron Horse” with the following tunes (among others):
‘Iron Horse’ by the Soul Agents (Dust Bowl)
‘Ride The Iron Horse’ by Fred Lowery with Big Bo and the Arrows (Cotillion)
‘Iron Horse’ by the Marlboro Men (Nite Beat)
‘The Iron Horse’ by Merle Saunders and Heavy Turbulence (Galaxy)
I hope everyone has a great weekend, and I’ll see you all next week with some more soulful goodness.