The songs of Van McCoy have been part of the soundtrack to our lives for more than 50 years. He became a hit artist in his own right in the mid-70s, thanks to ‘The Hustle’, but it’s his creativity as a composer and producer in the previous decade that has long beguiled fans of soul music. One of the most universally-admired figures in soul history, McCoy has long been overdue an appearance in our songwriter series. “The Sweetest Feeling” affords him the kind of salute that a talent of his stature truly deserves.
Van McCoy was encouraged from an early age by his parents to be a good student and musician in equal measure. The McCoys were a churchgoing family and Van enjoyed being part of the local choir, almost as much as he enjoyed making use of the family piano, often accompanied by his older brother Norman on violin. By their mid-teens the brothers were smitten by doo wop and with two friends formed the Starlighters. In 1961 Van wrote and produced his debut solo single, ‘Mr DJ’. Released on his own Rock’n label with national distribution by Scepter Records, it didn’t quite chart, but Scepter boss Florence Greenberg was an astute judge of talent and was quick to hire Van as a staff songwriter and producer. He was on his way.
Over the next 18 years, this musical genius was responsible for some of the greatest recordings of all time. It’s unlikely that there’s anyone out there with even a passing interest in American music of the 60s and 70s who doesn’t have some cherished examples of his work in their collection. Spanning the years 1962 to 1973, this collection offers a spellbinding cross-section of sumptuous ballads, uptown and big city soul classics, chart smashes and a few tried and trusted Northern soul favourites. Featured artists such as Jackie Wilson, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Erma Franklin, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Butler, Esther Phillips, Irma Thomas and Chuck Jackson show that McCoy’s songs were invariably given the VIP treatment by the biggest stars in the soul firmament.
Van McCoy was only 39 when he died in 1979, leaving a catalogue of material that was as excellent as it was abundant. Very few soul songwriters have ever matched quality and quantity to quite the same lasting effect. There are too many wonderful Van McCoy songs to fit on a single CD, but we hope that this one provides enough of a cross-section of his best work to inspire everyone who buys it to dig deeper into his vast catalogue. There’s music here that will delight fans of both up-tempo and down-tempo soul, and those who favour the former should note that a second volume that will focus on Van’s Northern soul favourites is planned. Meanwhile, the 24 songs featured on “The Sweetest Feeling” offer full proof of his songwriting talents and will leave everyone eager for more.
By TONY ROUNCE