Wild Cherry may have been one-hit wonders – but MAN, what a hit!
At the time of release, “Play That Funky Music” was seen as a joke on the disco movement – but all these many years later, a quick dip into this self-titled album will show you that Wild Cherry were actually the real deal – a funky combo with a hell of a way with a bassline, led by the riffing guitar and weirdly raw vocals of Robert Parissi! In a way, the group feel more like some of those blue-eyed funk combos from global scenes in the period – like Australia, Germany, or South Africa – where it maybe didn’t matter so much if you lad a long legacy in indie soul, as long as you could come up with the goods. And sure, the lyrics get a bit silly at times – maybe more lifted from compressed post-glam AM rock than soulful roots – but the overall sound of the set is surprisingly funky, in a way that’s maybe stronger than so many other acts who got more respect at the time.
A1 Play That Funky Music 5:00
A2 The Lady Wants Your Money 4:14
A3 99 1/2 3:00
A4 Don’t Go Near the Water 3:15
B1 Nowhere to Run 3:07
B2 I Feel Sanctified 3:45
B3 Hold On 4:11
B4 Get It Up 3:01
B5 What in the Funk Do You See 3:35
By Greg Prato
One-hit wonders Wild Cherry was led by Rob Parissi (singer, guitarist, songwriter), who originally formed the group in 1970. Influenced by the likes of the Yardbirds and Sly & the Family Stone (and named after a flavor of cough drops), the group played around their hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, and even inked a recording contract with Brown Bag Records. But the group never issued any albums for the label and split up in 1975. Understandably dejected, Parissi turned his back entirely on music, selling all the band’s equipment and for a while, managing a local steakhouse. But it wasn’t long before Parissi’s interest in music returned and he formed a new version of Wild Cherry with a whole new lineup, including Mark Ausec (keyboards), Bryan Bassett (guitar), Allen Wentz (bass), and Ronald Beitle (drums).
The group was still mostly rock-based and with the public’s attention shifting to more dance-oriented styles (namely disco), the group was accosted nightly between sets by fans who wanted them to “Play that funky music“. It wasn’t long before Parissi took heed and penned a song under the same title, an infectious ditty that merged funk and rock together. The quintet entered a studio shortly thereafter to record the track (although they felt that a cover of the Commodores song “I Feel Sanctified” stood more of a chance of becoming a hit). A friend of an engineer at the studio overheard the track, eventually bringing it to the attention of Epic Records, which in turn signed the group.
“Play That Funky Music” became a monster hit in 1976, peaking at number one on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts, while both the single and Wild Cherry’s self-titled debut obtained platinum certification. Wild Cherry was rewarded with a number of accolades shortly thereafter, including being named Best Pop Group of the Year by Billboard, receiving an American Music Award for Top R&B Single of the Year, and even earning a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Vocal Group and Best R&B Performance by a Group or Duo. But Wild Cherry proved to be susceptible to the dreaded sophomore jinx and as their follow-up recording, 1977’s Electrified Funk, failed to spawn any hits and sunk from sight shortly after its release, as did such further releases as 1978’s I Love My Music, plus 1979’s Only the Wild Survive and Don’t Wait Too Long; Wild Cherry split up the same year (with Parissi eventually turning up later as a disc jockey in Wheeling, WV).
Wild Cherry’s lone hit remains a favorite in dance clubs to this day, as a pair of collections were issued after their split: Play the Funk and Super Hits.
Wild Cherry – 1977 – Electrified Funk
Wild Cherry was the epitome of a one-hit wonder. Anyone who is seriously into 1970s soul/funk is familiar with “Play That Funky Music” but a lot of the people who know Cherry for that wildly infectious number-one hit probably wouldn’t be able to name any of their other songs. That’s regrettable because while “Play That Funky Music” was Cherry’s only major hit, it wasn’t the only worthwhile song the band recorded. Electrified Funk, Cherry’s second album, wasn’t a huge seller but it’s a generally respectable collection of rock-influenced funk and blue-eyed soul. The LP gets off to an unimpressive start with “Baby, Don’t You Know“, which is nothing more than a poor man’s “Play That Funky Music.” However, when Cherry rips into “Dancin’ Music Band“, “Are You Boogieing Around on Your Daddy” and the Commodores-influenced “Hot to Trot“, this album wins listeners over, reminding them that there was more to Cherry than “Play That Funky Music.” Also appealing is Cherry’s remake of “Hold On“, a ballad that they had previously recorded for their self-titled debut album of 1976.