Classics: Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony – The Hustle (Disco Mix) (H&L Records)
The author of the memorable ‘The Hustle’, Van McCoy started writing his own songs by the age of 12. It wasn’t long before he started performing in local amateur shows. Thus sharing the bill alongside his older brother, Norman Jr. From then, the two brothers formed a Doo-Wop act – the Starlighters – with two friends while in Roosevelt High School. Eventually putting out their first song – ‘The Birdland’ – back in 1956.
Although he managed to have around 700 song copyrights to his credit, Van McCoy is most remembered for the legendary ‘The Hustle’. A masterpiece he composed while in the Big Apple to record an album back in 1975. This after his partner had watched regulars of Adam’s Apple local nightclub dancing the Hustle.
Doin’ The Hustle…
Famous drummer Steve Gadd and guitarist Eric Gale were among the musicians doing the recording session. As piccolo player Phillip Bodner responsible for the lead melody. With the whole under the direction of orchestra leader Gene Orloff.
Remembered as one of the most popular themes of the Disco era, but also as one of the biggest instrumentals ever (see our 10 Essentials in the series), Van McMcCoy came up with the idea of doin’ an extended version of it. Sadly, it saw the light with additional recorded parts soon after his sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 39…
A native of WDC, Van McCoy learned playing piano at a young age before singin’ with the Metropolitan Baptist Church choir.By the age of 12, he had begun writing his own songs. And four years later, he’d already released his first single, ‘The Birdland’. This with his older brother, Morman, Jr. and two schoolmates (Freddy Smith and Paul Comedy) under the Starlighters guise. The group disbanding though after a couple of singles, most likely because of personal matters.
In September 1958, McCoy entered Howard University to study psychology. Although he left after two years to relocate to Philadelphia, PA. There, he formed his own recording company, Rockin’ Records, releasing his first single, ‘Hey Mr. DJ’, in 1959. The latter came to the attention of Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg, who hired McCoy as a staff writer and A&R representative for the label. McCoy would get his first success as a writer. This while composing ‘Stop The Music’ for The Shirelles back in 1962. The co-owner of Vando Records with Jocko Henderson, he also had to deal with other labels. Thus eventually supervising artists such as Gladys Knight & The Pips.
The 60’s saw him writing a bunch of classics for various luminaries. From Gladys Knight & The Pips (‘Giving Up’) to Brenda & The Tabulations (‘Right On The Tip Of My Tongue’). And he also contributed putting together Peaches & Herb. This in addition to other collaborations with Faith, Hope & Charity (‘To Each His Own’) and David Ruffin (‘Walk Away from Love’). Not to mention The Stylistics and Melba Moore during the 70’s.
By 1975, Van McCoy came up with ‘Disco Baby’. An album mostly instrumental mainly remembered for ‘The Hustle’ named after the dance of the likes. Its success happened to be as unexpected as big, getting McCoy to win a Grammy Award. However, he never got in the position to match a comparable success again. Even though ‘The Shuffle’ went on to become the theme tune for ‘Sport On Four’ on BBC Radio 4.
‘The Hustle’ would eventually resurface under the form of an extended version back in 1979. Although, sadly enough, soon after McCoy‘s passing from a heart attack in Englewood, NJ, on Jul. 06, 1979, aged 39.