Soul fans know and revere Van McCoy as the consummate song writer, arranger and producer. Now and then it’s also good to hear ‘The Hustle’ and maybe pretend you can still strut your stuff. Few though – even amongst the cognoscenti – are aware of Van’s mid 60s career as a singer when he was groomed by Columbia Music as the “next Johnny Mathis”. Intrigued? Well, all is revealed on this new Super Bird album which brings to CD for the very first time McCoy’s 1966 idiosyncratic ‘Night Time Is Lonely Time’ long player.
Some context first … Van Allen Clinton MCoy was born in Washington in 1940 and in the mid 50s he formed a doo-wop group with his brother Norman. Later, working out of Philadelphia, he recorded self-penned tunes for his own Rock’N label which eventually bought him to the attention of Florence Greenberg who signed him as a staff writer to Wand/Scepter. His success there (think of hits on the Shirelles, Maxine Brown and Chuck Jackson) saw him move up to a bigger publishing house, April Blackwood – which was linked to the mighty Columbia label – one of whose biggest stars was Johnny Mathis. When Mathis decamped to Mercury, it was suggested that Van McCoy – the vocalist – might fill the void he’d left –and, encouraged and mentored by top writer/producer Mitch Miller, he went into the studio and cut the ‘Night Time Is Lonely Time’ album. The 11 tracker is a mix of McCoy originals and classic standards like ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ and ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ – but to all intents and purposes this is a Johnny Mathis album. Vocally – almost down to every last little inflection – Van sounds more like Johnny than Mathis himself, while the smooth, sterile productions and arrangements by Miller are built from the same templates he used with Mathis. Even the new Van McCoy songs could’ve been written for Johnny boy and apart from the sweet melodies and meticulous crafting they bear little relationship to his previous and later more soulful offerings. Maybe because of all this the album fared poorly and our man went back to the backroom.
Of course, he went on to achieve major success with people like Jackie Wilson, Barbara Lewis and David Ruffin while all kinds of soul and pop luminaries recorded his wonderful songs. Then came disco and ‘The Hustle’ and a move into movies and TV themes – till sadly and prematurely he died in 1979. Most of Van’s musical achievements have been readily available for a long time on all kinds of reissues – now, for the first time, we have the opportunity to enjoy a long lost chapter in a great soul craftsman’s career.