A post-disco anthem, several times over.
"We first built the record up on the street before we ever brought it to Prelude Records," said James (D-Train) Williams about "You're The One For Me," the enduring post-disco smash he wrote with Hubert Eaves III, in James Arena's book Legends Of Disco: Forty Stars Discuss Their Careers. The two met while attending high school in Brooklyn and formed the group D-Train, named after Williams' football prowess. Eaves was in rotation, making the rounds as a serious jazz session musician. He'd collaborated with James Mtume, the former Miles Davis sideman who hit pay dirt with the 1983 number one R&B hit, "Juicy Fruit."
"We recorded 'You're The One For Me' on a 16-track and overdubbed the crap out of it so it sounded like the version everyone knows," says Williams. "We started bringing the track around to different record companies, and most of them rejected it. They hated 'You're The One For Me.' They said I couldn't sing and that we needed to take my voice off the record and hire a girl. Columbia Records, all the labels—nobody liked it. Man, they all hated me." That overwhelming refusal? Lack of foresight. Code for: too Black.
Corporate record labels had no idea what to do with those percolating synthesizers, thumping basslines and melodic chords with the beat mostly on the one and two. It played differently. Black music had changed up again. Meaning, pop music would follow suit about six months to a year later—Top 40 was always dragging at least six months behind the hot shit.
It was Larry Levan's dance floor at Paradise Garage—not Dick Clark's American Bandstand—that determined what records made it to Black radio. Frankie Crocker, DJ and Music Director of WBLS in New York—the most listened-to radio station in the country—created an eclectic music mix of R&B and disco redefining the Black music format as urban contemporary. This presentation was culled from the tracks broken at the Paradise Garage, mixed on-the-fly by Levan. Crocker begged, every night, for Levan's documented set—song and artist, in the exact order it was played, so he could run it back over the airwaves the next day, and sell some damn records. Certain labels became dependent on it.
When Levan broke "You're The One For Me" during his set at The Garage in February of '81—it has just the right blend of Teddy Pendergrass's pulpit testifying and Herbie Hancock's keyboard funk—Williams, who was behind the booth that fateful night, said the track hit the venue like a bomb went off. "There were 2,000 people there and they lost their minds! I remember we were there with him [Levan] in the DJ booth, and he announced, 'We have this new track from D-Train called 'You're The One For Me' right here at the Paradise Garage! Come on children, get up!'" Levan's congregation—Black, Brown, Asian, Gay, Straight, Trans and Caucasian folk—rearranged the dance floor into a euphoric basement. This truly progressive milieu, seeking refuge from the encroaching Reagan conservatism, understood the reformist thwack in non-bleached form.
"You're The One For Me," which came in at number 53 on the Billboard dance singles chart on December 19th, 1981, was not just proto-house—it set in place a template, deep cultural indentation. That ready-made ring tone keyboard strain jumps off the chart, like a sound effect, a character from an Ennio Morricone composition. Sure, it was a number one dance hit for three weeks in 1982 and also made it to number 13 on the soul singles chart. But it also played as a soundtrack on the subway platform, blaring from boomboxes, while commuters were checking for that new DONDI piece on the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line.
While nobody wanted to speak the term "disco," everybody yearned for dance floor dominance, from The Rolling Stones to Rod Stewart. But it was the French-born, US-based producer, DJ and remixer François Kevorkian who snatched inspiration from the tape looping and splicing expertise of reggae pioneer Lee "Scratch" Perry and made D-Train's first hit unavoidable. By time-stretching vocals, emphasizing certain basslines and dropping out particular drum sections, his remix became an elongated dub symphony of thump and sheen. It scored Friday night playback on 98.7 KISS FM, 92 WKTU, and 107.5 WBLS, the three leading Black-oriented radio stations in New York City during the early '80s.
"Growing up in the '80s, music was a huge part of my life. Especially at summer BBQs, and the soundtrack to those summer parties was always D Train's "You're The One For Me,'" reflected Amir Abdullah, esteemed music archivist. The Berlin-based DJ, producer and former member of Kon & Amir, put it in perspective. "The gritty soulful vocals are so infectious that no matter how many times you hear this song, you always sing along. Culturally, it's as important and significant in the Black community as Stevie Wonder's version of 'Happy Birthday.'"
Almost 40 years after its release, it popped up in the cultural zeitgeist again, due to a newfound interest in post-disco records. Los Angeles boogie party Funkmosphere, started by Dam-Funk, and its sister party in San Francisco, Sweater Funk, acted as ground zero for a global resurgence in the synth-funk sound. The sound came back thanks to these younger aficionados, even landing in Grand Theft Auto V.
"Almost every guest for the first two years (of the party) played that song," said Jacob Pena, AKA DJ Guillermo, the San Francisco DJ and cofounder of the Sweater Funk party. "We didn't even have to bring it. It was so ubiquitous because it was foundational for dance music and the boogie genre. You can totally slap 'You're The One For Me' on at any time to get the night started but it's only in the hands of a good DJ that it really comes to life. That's when the record would shine with new light, reminding everyone why it has achieved such legendary status."
Sat / 11 Jul 2020
01. You're The One For Me