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The Sound Of Philadelphia To Come: “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles & Co.

Remember those Philadelphia dance craze records from the very early sixties? They never really went away, just mutated, away from Dick Clark and Bandstand and towards the decade to come. “The Horse” must count as one of the most obscure of all number two hits, and more or less was a happy accident.

Soul singer Cliff Nobles, originally from Alabama – born in Grove Hill, raised in Mobil – moved to Philadelphia and cut a few records for Atlantic, without success. He then formed a group – the “& Co.” – and, after having met with songwriter and record producer Jesse James (real name), they signed to the local Phil-L.A. Of Soul record label. Their second single was “Love Is All Right,” featuring a particularly boisterous lead vocal from Nobles. It did little business…but then something happened.

Specifically, as was general practice back then – essentially to save having to pay double session fees – the B-side of “Love Is All Right,” which was simply retitled “The Horse,” was just the instrumental backing track for the A-side; the music had basically evolved (or been sonically tweaked/edited) from a jam session by the studio players. The musicians resented the low session fee they were given – they certainly weren’t put on royalties – and vowed never to work with James again.

Nonetheless, “The Horse” then began to take on a life of its own. It started to receive regular radio play, usually as a two-minutes-before-the-news filler or to soundtrack a DJ’s patter, and it caught on to the extent that it became a million-seller in its own right, placing “Love Is All Right,” and indeed Cliff Nobles, firmly in the shade.

Its popularity presented Nobles, who had nothing to do with the final “hit,” with a dilemma – how to promote a record into which he had injected zero input? The following clip provides us with an answer; introduced by an excitable presenter, Nobles and his sidekick “Little Tina” perform a dance called “the Horse” and Nobles improvises new lyrics over the top. It wasn’t the big hit – which is why it’s down here and not up at the top – but it places the record’s success in a firm context.

As a dance record, “The Horse” must count as one of the most minimalist of all number twos – turn up Bobby Martin's piano in the mix and you’d have Acid House. But its groove is fine and funky, with some particularly crisp and sterling drumming by Earl Young, and broken up by some aptly equestrian-sounding brass figures. In Britain, although the record never charted, it became a huge club hit, and on the radio I recall Emperor Rosko being particularly keen on it. As for the “& Co.” players (and their arranger, the aforementioned Mr Martin), they opted to hook up with another young pair of Philadelphia songwriters and producers called Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and eventually became the basis of the band MFSB – by 1974 they were back at number one with the majestic "T.S.O.P." The future had begun.

Date Record Made Number Two: 29 June 1968
Number Of Weeks At Number Two: 3
Record At Number One: “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert
UK Chart Position: None


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