35 Years Ago: Kool & the Gang Release ‘Ladies’ Night’
Kool & the Gang marked the end of their first decade in 1979, and at first, it seemed unlikely that they'd be marking that anniversary in style: sales were down, they hadn't had a hit record in years, and they were tinkering with their sound through the addition of new lead singer James "J.T." Taylor.
What might have seemed like a downward spiral at the time, however, was really just a lull before the band's big commercial breakthrough. Kool & the Gang had hits over the course of their first dozen studio LPs, but it was their 13th -- 'Ladies' Night,' released Sept. 6, 1979 -- that really made them household names.
Produced by Brazilian pianist Eumir Deodato, who'd scored a massive hit single in 1973, with his reworked version of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra,' 'Ladies' Night' added a light pop sheen to the group's traditionally funky sound -- a well-timed commercial concession, considering the increased popularity of disco-propelled R&B in the late '70s. With a title track that paid tribute to female listeners out looking for a good time, the album was a platinum smash waiting to happen.
"Originally it was going to be like a street opera kind of thing, but we changed it around into more of a concept centered around going out, going to discos, socializing, meeting people," explained the band in a 1979 interview. "It was going to be called 'Hanging Out' after one of the tunes, but we switched it to 'Ladies' Night' because that just seemed more appropriate -- plus knowing that women make up a large portion of the record-buying public -- that helped."
Indeed it did, as 'Ladies' Night' quickly went on to dominate the pop and R&B charts on both sides of the Atlantic. A No. 1 R&B hit in the U.S., the single peaked at No. 8 on American Top 40, stalling one position lower in the U.K. The album's second single, 'Too Hot,' fared about as well, hitting No. 3 at R&B and No. 5 on Billboard's Hot 100. It all added up to the group's biggest album to that point: the 'Ladies' Night' LP topped the R&B charts and peaked at No. 13 overall, selling over a million copies along the way.
'Ladies' Night' also started a string of gold and platinum albums for the group, one that included subsequent massive hit singles such as 'Celebration,' 'Get Down On It,' 'Joanna,' 'Fresh,' 'Misled' and 'Cherish.' Over the next seven years and seven albums, Kool and the Gang were a hitmaking machine.
Nothing lasts forever, and the group's bestselling streak was over by the end of the '80s, as Taylor departed to seek his solo fortune and R&B stations moved away from Kool & the Gang's brand of good-natured party music. But they're still touring and recording today, wielding a 13-member lineup that includes co-founders Robert "Kool" Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown and Dennis Thomas -- and although tastes have changed, their mission statement remains the same.
"Basically, we've always geared our music to people dancing from the very beginning," insisted the band in that 1979 interview. "So in that way, we were forerunners -- it's just that at a certain point, the word 'disco' became synonymous with 'dance.' But we've been making records for people to boogie to all the time!"
The group went on to influence rappers like Lil' Kim to craft her own "boogie"-influenced hit with 1997's 'Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix),' which quickly climbed the charts in the U.S., peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song sampled Kool & the Gang's 'Ladies' Night' and became widely popular due to the guest verses from Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Angie Martinez and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.