Alphabetical Order: K
Keep the Fire Burning – Gwen McCrae, Atlantic Records 1982.
Gwen McCrae was born Gwen Mosley in Florida, 1943. She came through the Pentecostal church and began performing as a singer in local clubs in her teens. She takes her surname from her ex husband, the singer George McCrae, who she met in the early sixties when he was still just a sailor, and who was, of course, responsible for one of the first big disco hits (big as in it sold over 10 MILLION copies), Rock You Baby, released in 1974.
By the time of that record’s release, Gwen was already becoming established in her own right, having released her first single, Lead Me On, in 1970 and her first full length self titled LP in 1974, which contained the peerless ‘90% of Me is You’. She recorded with George as a duo too, going on to release a few decent albums, but her solo stuff is widely considered to be her best. When their marriage hit the rocks, Gwen went back to releasing as a solo artist, and produced some of the finest night-time soul music to have graced the planet.
‘Keep the Fire Burning’ oozes musical quality, no surprise as it was written by Motown songwriting legend, Willie Hutch. The track has is initially dominated by the bass guitar line that sits high in the mix, and comes together as the track develops like a sonic jigsaw. There’s clavinet vamps and electric piano chords that anchor the track harmonically, a nice mute guitar that crops up to complement the tight live drums and, as the track progresses, in come the high line swirling disco strings. All of this would work fine as an instrumental, but of course on top of all this glorious noise is one of the most emotive, toughest voices in soul music. The extended mix is just shy of seven minutes and has breakdowns and bridges that keep it building and building right to the end.
Keep the Fire Burning is a perennial dance floor soul bomb, not quite disco, not really funk, but perfectly paced and stretched out enough to suck any discerning dance-floor into it’s considerable vortex. The track got a re release in 94 with remixes from Roger Sanchez, Stonebridge and a couple of others attempting to bring it up to date, but no one got anywhere near the quality of the original extended mix, which itself is a timeless gem.
Tip: Those based in the South West or heading that way for the Loves Saves the Day festival on 3rd June can see Gwen McCrae play a rare live gig the next night, June 4th at The Trinity Centre, Bristol.
By Joe Evans