SMART SOUNDS by Colin Bell reviewing Rose Royce: The Definitive Collection, 3CD Box Set


I have to say straight off, the fact you are reading this review, from this particular reviewer, is in itself something of a minor miracle. Much as I’ve had a lifetime love of music & chose it as my career, there are a few genres & time periods that leave me stone cold, no matter how hard i try. One in particular is the mid to late 70’s disco boom spearheaded by ‘Saturday Night Fever’ at the sound of Barry Gibb breaking into that falsetto on ‘Night Fever’ ‘ Jive Talkin’ etc i run for the hills with my fingers in my ears. But of course there is always going to be the odd exception to my general disregard of that whole time/genre. That exception i present to you here today in the shape of Rose Royce. I don’t recall now when i first became of them, but no doubt it was 1976 and ‘Car Wash’ but it was undoubtedly a year or more later when i heard ‘Wishing On A Star’ that i finally did take some notice. Who was that lead female singer with such an enchanting vocal? Rose Royce’s story began in 1973 when an 8 piece collective from Los Angeles then known as the Total Concept Unlimited toured Europe & the UK as part of Edwin Starr’s soul show. It was Edwin that introduced the band to legendary Motown songwriter/songwriter Norman Whitfield in a move which saw the stars align. After a decade at Motown shaping the careers of Edwin & notably The Temptations, Whitfield was looking for a new challenge and left Motown taking with him The Undisputed Truth and setting up his own label Whitfield Records. His next move was to sign the Total Concept Unlimited as the studio and touring band to back them. By this time the band had changed its name & become Magic Wand. Whilst in Miami a member of The Undisputed Truth heard Gwen Dickey singing in a local band and brought her to Whitfield’s attention who flew her to Los Angeles for an audition. He realised he had found in her the ingredient missing from Magic Wand and installed her as their lead singer, in the process giving her the stage name Rose Norwalt. Whitfield had recently been charged with creating the soundtrack for a new musical comedy movie ‘Car Wash’. Whitfield took the members of Magic Wand to the film set for them to soak up the atmosphere and used the music he created for the movie to launch the band, who with a final name change, he dubbed Rose Royce to reference Rose (Gwen Dickey) and Royce to signify ‘class’ as in Rolls Royce. The band were immediately successful with the single release of the theme ‘Car Wash’ which was a Billboard No 1 and the soundtrack double album from which it was lifted was certified double platinum. ‘Car Wash’ is naturally the opening track on this excellent new 3 CD compilation from Robinsongs. It is called The Definitive Collection and for once it certainly lives up to its title. I have lost track of the albums i have been sent over the years that use the word ‘definitive’ but 9 out of 10 times aren’t. This is usually because the band concerned have recorded for several different labels & they haven’t all been willing parties to participate together with one collection, thus you don’t really get a true ‘definitive’ compilation at all and you end up having to buy several albums to get what you want. That is not the case here. Robinsongs have pulled together the bands work from all labels concerned in the Rose Royce story MCA, Warner (who backed Whitfield Records) and Epic. So,you can literally sit back and enjoy all the classics you would expect. Disc1 as you might expect kicks off with ‘Car Wash’ (the long version) and features other major hits including ‘I Wanna Get Next To You’ ‘I’m Going Down’ ‘Wishing On A Star’& the exquisite ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ which must surely rank as one of Gwen’s finest vocal performances over her career with the band. Alongside these biggies are some great funk/soul tracks like ‘Do Your Dance’ which are clearly inspired by Whitfield’s work with The Temptations but taken to a new funkier level. The closing track is also a real beauty, a mid paced ballad entitled ‘Help’ which I’ve totally fallen for. Disc2 starts with a fabulous track That’s What’s Wrong With Me’ that displays many of the musical traits of ‘psychedelic soul’ that Whitfield had pioneered at Motown. However it’s track 2 that i can’t get out of my head and have repeatedly replayed just for its wonderful intro. The way it builds with the stabbing synth, the drums, the bass line, the horns, the strings all making their appearances is intoxicating. Although i was obviously aware of it at the time of its release in 1979 i didn’t REALLY listen to it then ‘Is It Love That You’re After’ was and is a truly great track and I’m somewhat ashamed i wrote off late 70’s ‘disco’ as mentioned at the start of this review so completely, when songs as good as this existed, but hey it’s never too late to learn. IILTYA was to be the last hit featuring Gwen before she left to go solo in 1979. Track 3 ‘Bad Mother Funker’ (yes i did spell that right…) is a very cool slice of funk as is the following track ‘Pazazz’, an instrumental which contains some dazzling horns. I’m not going to pretend I’m familiar with all the tracks that make up Disc2, 13 in total, because I’m not, due as aforementioned to my previous disinterest in the genre, but I’m learning and listening avidly and genuinely enjoying what I’m hearing. Disc3 contains 10 tracks and kicks off with the full length 12 minute version of ‘RR Express’, which again being totally honest is the only track on the disc that I am familiar with and that is only because a friend i used to hang with in London loved it, The following 2 tracks ‘Jump Street’ & ‘Illusions’ both gave my speakers a good work out and are deeply funky. There were moments listening to this collection where certain parts or riffs would remind me of Earth Wind & Fire or Sly & The Family Stone, but i honestly think Rose Royce in the final analysis are often cooler & more refined than either. I’m now re-assessing my previously held opinions on late 70’s disco/funk thanks to listening to this compilation. I may not find anything else from that era that i have changed my mind about, however i thank Robinsongs for showing me the error of my ways when it comes to Rose Royce. The collection comes housed in a quality fold out pack with accompanying informative booklet. If i was still using my old 5 star rating system this new compilation would merit all 5 and that’s a statement i never thought I’d make about this genre when i woke up today. Enjoy.

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Til next time…..stay safe…..Colin

Alan Esdaile… Good review and video but the track I really love is ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’

Mick O’Dowd… Really loved this band. I’m another fan of RR Express. Had 12″ copy (the long version and played it a lot. I also love the other tracks you mention. Thanx for the background info. very interesting. If you see a spare copy floating about can you put my name on it please.



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