As if to confirm that our last helping of disco-soul – George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ – wasn’t a fluke, here’s another slice. Go on, you know you want to…
When Will I See You Again, by The Three Degrees (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 11th – 25th August 1974
This is an impossibly glitzy record – you can’t help imagine a shimmering disco ball slowly spinning above The Three Degrees as they sing – and, as with our previous #1, it’s supremely glossy. Back in the fifties, I used to write that American singers sounded so polished and mature, so sexy, next to our gurning music hall stars. So it is again. We were dancing like loons to ‘Sugar Baby Love’; they were coolly shimmying to records like this.
Hoooo…. Haaaa… Precious moments…. It’s a reboot of the classic sixties girl-groups – The Shirelles, The Ronettes and, of course, The Supremes. When will I see you again…? Lyrically, this is very close to ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, with the singers asking if what’s just passed is the real thing or just a fling. When will we share precious moments…? It’s such a perfect pop song, so well put together, so smooth and silky, that I’m struggling to pick it apart. Maybe it’s one that simply needs listening to, and appreciating, and I can shut up. Post over.
It’s also a record that gets better as it progresses. I like it when lead singer Sheila Ferguson gets insistent: Are we in love, Or just friends… Is this my beginning, Or is this the end…? Enter a funky brass section, on top of the swirling strings, which I feel shouldn’t work but which does, wonderfully.
Apparently Ferguson really didn’t like ‘When Will I See You Again’ when it was first offered to the group. “I thought it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song, and that it took no talent to sing it,” she said later. Not the first, nor the last, example of a singer not knowing a hit song even if it jumped up and bit them on the behind.
I’m amazed at how few big hits The Three Degrees enjoyed in the UK. This was the biggest of just five Top 10s. In the US – and this truly has me flabbergasted – this record reached #2… and then they never had a hit again! I didn’t know much about them, but The Three Degrees just sound like such a classic pop group. I’d have had them up there with the aforementioned sixties girl groups in terms of hit singles.
Still, as I’ve said before, if you’re gonna have a limited number of hits, you better make ‘em good ones. This is definitely a ‘good one’. It is also, by all accounts, one of Prince Charles’s favourite songs – the group performed it for him, in Buckingham Palace, for his thirtieth birthday. The man has taste. The Three Degrees are still a going concern, with one of the ladies whom you can hear on this record: Valerie Holiday. Of the other two, Fayette Pinkney, a founding member of the group, passed away in 2009, and Sheila Ferguson went solo in the ‘80s. There have been fifteen members in total but, for obvious reasons, only three at one time…