“Let’s Go Dancing”: The colorful Kool & the Gang were struttin’ their stuff in Brooklyn Heights, NY

By on January 4, 2018

This December 21, 1984 episode of “Night Flight” featured our “Take Off to Dance,” a special segment focusing on the dancing seen in numerous upbeat early ’80s music videos, including Kool & the Gang’s jazzy, reggae-influenced “Let’s Go Dancin’ (Ooh La La La).” Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

Led by their silky-voice tenor James Warren “J.T.” Taylor, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit, Kool & the Gang are seen struttin’ their stuff down an upscale tree-lined neighborhood in Brooklyn Heights, known for its grand brownstone buildings.

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“Let’s Go Dancing” was the eighth successive Top Forty smash hit produced by Rio de Janeiro-born fusion jazz arranger/composer/producer & recording artist Eumir Deodato.

Deodato had had his own chart success in 1973 when his electro jazz-funk cover version of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” charted at #2 on the U.S. Pop charts, earning him a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

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Deodato’s incredible production skills would bring him even more acclaim, and during his long career he’d end up working with some of the top vocal stylists of all time, including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack, arranging her huge pop hit “Killing Me Softly.”

By the end of the decade, Kool & the Gang were wanting to adopt a smoother pop/R&B sound, and Deodato seemed like the perfect producer to help them find the same kind of success that some of their ’70s peers — including Earth, Wind & Fire, the Commodores, and the Ohio Players — were then enjoying having made similar changes.

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Read more about Kool & the Gang below.

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By 1961, Ohio-born electric bassist Robert “Kool” Bell and his brother, tenor saxophonist and musical director Ronald Bell were living in the Jersey City, NJ projects.

Within the next three years they’d be forming their group’s first lineup, adding fellow Lincoln High classmates Robert “Spike” Mickens (trumpet), Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas (saxes/flutes), Claydes “Charles” Smith (guitar) and “Funky George” Brown (drums).

Keyboardist Ricky Westfield would join them in 1970.

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They underwent several name changes over the next five years, and in 1969, released their first single, an instrumental entitled “Kool & the Gang,” which they’d adopt as their group name. They also released their self-titled all-instro debut LP, Kool & the Gang, on Gene Redd’s New York-based De-Lite imprint.

Before long, they were a well-known jazz/R&B act performing in the greater New York City area, often opening for comedians like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

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It wasn’t until 1973’s Wild & Peaceful, however, that they finally vaulted to the top of the album charts (#6 R&B, #33 Pop), propelled by memorable ’70s R&B party anthems like “Funky Stuff” (#5 R&B), “Hollywood Swinging” (#1 R&B/#6 Pop), and their horny platinum smash “Jungle Boogie” (#4 Pop/#2 R&B), featuring a growling lead vocal by Don Boyce, their roadie.

Decades later, the track would be featured prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 cult hit, Pulp Fiction.

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During the rest of the ’70s, the hits kept coming, coinciding with the group’s entire membership converting to the black separatist Nation of Islam, with nearly everyone adopting new names given to them by Elijah Muhammad’s son.

The sublime instrumental “Summer Madness” — peaking at #36 R&B — was featured two years later on the Grammy-winning Rocky soundtrack, while the title track from 1976’s Open Sesame (#13 on Billboard‘s Disco, now Dance, chart) also appeared on the biggest-selling movie soundtrack of all-time, Saturday Night Fever, earning them their second Grammy award.

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In 1979, Kool & the Gang began working with Deodato, whose objective studio sense and electro-funk programming took them to the top of nearly all of the charts.

The title track from 1979’s Ladies Night, in fact, held down the #1 position on Billboard‘s R&B charts for three consecutive weeks, peaking at #8 on the Pop charts. “Too Hot” also landed in the Top Ten of both charts (#3 R&B/#5 Pop).

Ladies Night (#1 R&B/#13 Pop) was just the first of three consecutive platinum-selling albums for Kool & the Gang, followed in 1980 by Celebrate!

“Celebration” — supposedly inspired by the creation story in the Holy Qur’an — was their only hit single to reach #1 on the Pop, R&B, and Dance charts while also becoming a perennial wedding reception classic.

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Kool & the Gang were now a huge mainstream act, a smooth contempo-pop/R&B act with high-gloss polished soft jazz production courtesy of Deodato, dominating the charts with heavy rotation radio airplay and huge record sales.

The last of their Deodato-produced platinum platters was Something Special (1981), giving the group their biggest international hit with “Get Down On It,” which peaked at #4 R&B/#10 Pop/#16 Dance and topping out at #3 on the UK singles chart.

Deodato would produce several more hit singles for the group, including the Marvin Gaye-influenced, reggae-spiced R&B chart-topper “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It),” and “Big Fun” (#6 R&B, #21 Pop).

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In late 1982, Deodato and the group would finally part ways following the release of As One, their fourteenth studio album, which failed to yield any #1 chart-toppers, although “Let’s Go Dancin’ (Ooh La La La)” did make the Top Ten, peaking at #7 R&B, #29 Pop, and #6 on the UK Singles Chart.

Kool & the Gang would continue to have chart success for a few years, however, with the romantic love ballads “Joanna” and “Cherish” (#1 R&B/#2 Pop).

“Misled” and “Fresh”(#1 R&B) also both reached the Pop Top Ten.

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Kool & the Gang’s successful run of seven straight gold or platinum records came to and end with 1986’s Forever, after which “J.T.” Taylor amicably left to pursue a solo career.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Dance” also features videos by the Kinks, Electric Light Orchestra, Michael Jackson and Jackson’s thirteen year old child pal Alfonso Ribeiro, among others, and you can watch it over on our subscription streaming channel, Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.